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Reactance – Unwillingness to Help Our Peers

  Sarah Baldeo


We have all gone through speeches about active listening, helping clients and prospects, championing, being an evangelist, etc., but how often do we help our peers? Not for reward, recognition, or self-interest but simply because we want to see everyone in our organization doing well.

This got me thinking about how we sometimes fail our peers. Why don’t we invest the same energies in helping our colleagues and peers as we do external stakeholders? Is this reticence born from unwillingness? Fear of being ‘outshone’? Perhaps we do not perceive our peers needs’ and requests as important?

It is an obvious conclusion that when we all do well – the organization does well. There is no such thing as success born strictly from one person. When we succeed, it is almost always due to the investment of time or energy from our team (however small). So then why do we rank our peers’ needs lower on the proverbial totem pole?

According to psychologist Leonard Berkowitz, when a person feels that something is being demanded of them – they inherently resent the request for help because it is viewed as an infringement of their ‘freedom of action’. Psychologists refer to this as the ‘reactance effect‘. The reactance theory explores why individuals experience aversion to assisting others and how a person’s mood directly impacts demands or requests of help by another. Individuals have a visceral aversion to their ‘freedom of will’ being impeded.

So how can we motivate people to help us? A couple of tips when asking for help from peers:

1) Be mindful of the language you use – try to avoid using terms like ‘must or need’ – instead use softer verbiage that reduces the onerousness of the request

2) Give people a choice instead of demanding – this helps to avoid an individual’s perception of being ‘forced’ into helping you

3) Never imply there is a punishment for non-compliance

Ultimately, a person’s response is dependent on an individual’s personality and motivation. Being aware of these individual aspects can help when interacting with your peers and understanding why they react the way they do when you ask for assistance.

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