Behavioral economist Dan Ariely uses psychological research to advise on everyday dilemmas. Read more columns here.

Dear Dan,

When working remotely, my employees not only miss social contacts, but also words of appreciation, as we jump from one Zoom call to the next without much time for spontaneous conversations. How can I change this? —Nathaniel

It has been shown that receiving praise improves motivation and wellbeing on the one hand, and reduces burnout and absenteeism on the other. These benefits extend to the praiseworthy as well: recent research has shown that handing out awards can actually make people happier than receiving them. In addition, creating a good word requires thinking about the recipient, and this encourages social bonding, which increases happiness.

Meeting someone spontaneously and complimenting them is difficult while working remotely. It is therefore important to create space that allows compliments and other small kindnesses. Consider taking a few minutes during a weekly team meeting or setting up a separate communication channel that allows employees to recognize each other and say thank you.

Dear Dan,

In a recent conversation with my friends, we all agreed that the pandemic was a stressful time, but some relationships between spouses seemed better than others. What could explain the inequality? —Ellen

Do you have a dilemma for Dan?

Send your question to [email protected] Questions can be revised and edited

Stress can put a strain on a relationship. For example, after a busy day at work and a long commute, you may come home impatient and irritable to your partner (who then feels wrongly accused). Taking your stress out on someone unrelated to its source is known as a “stress spillover.”

The pandemic has created an extraordinary amount of stress and opportunities for spillover. Those of us who can better manage our Covid-19 fears instead of taking them out on our partners are likely to protect our relationships better in these complex times.

Dear Dan,

My aunt and uncle invited me to dinner this week. I look forward to seeing them but fear the inevitable discussion about climate change (we live in the Pacific Northwest) as my uncle is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. How can I reach someone I care about without getting into an argument? -Emily

The chance of changing your uncle’s mind in a meeting is 0. Don’t even aim for it. But you can potentially damage his beliefs over time if you approach the conversation calmly and with empathy.

Often times, people are drawn to conspiracy theories because they feel angry, powerless, or disappointed with their life and the state of the world. For example, your uncle may be concerned about the recent heat wave and his lack of control over the environment. Research shows that such feelings are common among conspiracy theorists.

Listen to what your uncle has to say. Once you have a better understanding of the forces underlying his beliefs, you can try to help him deal with them more directly and in this way reduce his need for conspiracy theories.

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