Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Preference Bidding

In any relationship there is always give and take. Some more than others. To form a lasting friendship you must be willing to do things you don't want to because it pleases the person you care about. Whether it's washing dishes or forfeiting your vote for a movie choice, resolving conflict is important for intimacy. However, when sacrifice is needed, who should make it? If we care about efficiency, which we do, then costs should be minimized. My brother-in-law, who recently wrote a guest post, once told me he and his wife would rank, one to ten, how much cared about the decision. The person with the larger number got their way. The only problem with this system is that the incentive to strategically inflate my preference, even unknowingly, is too strong. Instead, I suggest something more technical, a preference bid.

In a preference bid (my terminology) each side will make an offer of a favor to the other in exchange for getting their way. I'll let you pick the movie, if you buy the popcorn. I'll wash dishes, if you take out the trash. And so on. This will ensure they are backing up what they say. This is done all the time. Unless of course, you combine the two ideas I've mentioned. Instead of letting your friend rank how much they care with a unprovable number, offer them a favor exchange. Be sure to offer something that would signal they care more than you. If they accept, then go with their preference. Now here's the twist. Don't actually make them do what they agreed to. It wasn't about exchanging favors, it was about determining how much they cared. Now you know, so there is no reason to go any further.

In repeated games there may be an incentive to cheat, now knowing they won't actually have to do what they offered. To prevent this you could randomly make them do the favor offered. By say calling a coin flip or rolling a die and seeing if it lands on the month they were born. That should be enough for them to bid properly, but not actually have to do you favors (which like money exchanges could ruin friendships). The other obvious option is to always sacrifice your own preferences for those you care about. My concern is that passion fatigue may actually ruin a relationships more than not getting your way. Perhaps a balance of the two is ideal.


  1. Quite an interesting topic ... I often land up in the same scenario but with a little change ... my roommates say 'X' & I say 'Y'. Then we decide to go with other's option to please , build repo or whatever ....at last in ends with coin flip .

  2. My question is how much can you give in without being bitter?

  3. I feel that really depends on the relationship with the person with whom you need to trade... I may trade something with nominal clause or even jettison my preference in front of my parents wish with no condition .But at the same time on similar point I may not be ready to trade at all or put some very difficult clause when dealing with friends... If you ask me how much can anyone give in without being bitter depends on the closeness & importance of the person with whom one needs to trade.

    What do you say ??

  4. I would say it depends on the person doing the sacrificing and how much they have sacrificed in the past.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.