Everyone has been there: You go out to dinner with friends, and one person gets the filet mignon while everybody else has salads. Or one person doesn't drink while everyone else gets a round of margaritas — and then another. What do you do when it's time to split the check?
If you divvy up the bill based on how many pieces of pizza each person ate or calculate the amount of tax each person owes exactly proportional to their part of the bill, you might soon be in trouble with your friends.
Behavior economist Michael Norton of Harvard Business School says a recent study shows that people recoil when you treat interactions with them like a business transaction.
"We don't mind if a retailer says, 'Here's your exact change.' Of course we want exact change from companies. That's how it works. But with people, it's completely different," he explained.
"People, when they're accurate like that, suddenly we hate them. The reason is ... it feels like they're treating you like it's a transaction. It's like, 'Wait — I thought we were buddies. Now you're treating me like a Bank of America,'" he continued.
Norton says part of that discomfort comes from feeling like there's a lack of trust in the relationship. If you split the bill evenly and someone loses out, there's an assumption that things will even out over time over the course of the relationship — that, next time, the shortchanged person will be the one getting the filet mignon.
"Suddenly the person is saying, 'I don't trust you to give me even 12 cents later on. I need it right now,'" Norton said.
Click on the audio player above to hear the entire interview with Michael Norton, and to hear listener calls about the most petty situations they've found themselves in.