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Why Asking For Volunteers Almost Never Works


Robby

I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a meeting here in Indianapolis and someone asks “are there any volunteers?” The usual response is crickets.

Once again it’s time to turn to the pages of social psychology to understand why asking for volunteers almost never works. It’s because of a phenomenon called “the bystander effect.” From Psychology Today:

The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. [Experts] attribute the bystander effect to the diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act).

Bystander effect
© Flickr User neate_photos

If you dig into the research, the bystander effect is actually quite tragic. There are countless cases where people watched an accident happen or a crime in progress, and no one called the police or offered help. Everyone thought somebody else would step up, so nobody did.

This also happens in the business world. If you ask a bunch of people if any one of them will volunteer, most of them will think that another person will step up. So how do you combat it?

Ask one person. Call them out by name. Or better yet, reach out to them personally–instead of in the meeting.

Bystander effect
© Flickr User er24ems

There’s also one more thing you can do to fight the bystander effect: explain that it exists.

When people ask for volunteers, you can raise your hand and say “I’m not necessarily volunteering, but I know all of us are busy so it’s hard to step up. Can we talk about dividing this up?”

Beware the bystander effect!

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.

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Tue, November 18 2014 » Corporate Culture, Leadership, Uncategorized

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