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More Bad News for Managers: New Research Says You Can’t Make the Right Choice

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NEW YORK--Cut medical benefits or lower salaries? Lay off workers or go bankrupt? Risk today’s bottom line or tomorrow’s? Dilemmas such as these are often unavoidable, and new research coming out of NYU Stern suggests that if you are choosing between two unsavory alternatives, you are likely to be blamed no matter what choice you make.

This classic conundrum of “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” is explored in a recent study by NYU Stern Marketing Professor Justin Kruger, Columbia University research fellow Jeremy Burrus (now at the Educational Testing Service), and NYU Psychology PhD candidate Laura Kressel. Citing an example from the world of politics, Kruger says, “If the government bailouts don’t work, President Obama will surely be blamed. On the flipside, he would likely have been blamed for not pushing for the bailouts as well.”

In their co-authored paper, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t,” the researchers describe two experiments involving two difficult decisions:

  • In Study 1, the decision was to which of two seemingly unfit parents to award sole child custody in a real-life divorce case.
  • In Study 2, the decision was which of two unpleasant tasks for the study participants to perform.

In both cases, participants tended to evaluate both the decision and decision-maker negatively regardless of his or her choice, and regardless of the fact that there were no other options available.

“Leaders in business, politics, education, medicine and any other organizations need to be aware of this when they’re making tough decisions, so they can prepare for and manage the predictable (if unfair) backlash that is sure to result,” remarked Kruger.

To read the full paper, click here.

To speak with Professor Justin Kruger, please contact him directly at 212-998-0504, jkruger@stern.nyu.edu; or contact Carolyn Ritter in NYU Stern’s Office of Public Affairs, 212-998-0624, critter@stern.nyu.edu.

July 21, 2009: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20090721005898/en