Are you guilty of ‘passing the buck’?
President Harry Truman may have said “The buck stops here,” but chances are that buck bounced around a bit before it reached Harry’s desk.
A new study suggests that people are more likely to delegate, or “pass the buck,” on decisions that involve choices that affect others, rather than just themselves. Researchers found that this was especially the case when the decisions could lead to negative outcomes.
The study used experiments in which people were given situations that involved business decisions, hotel and meal choices and other scenarios, with the option to make the call or delegate it to someone else. Some situations could lead to negative consequences for other people, such as their boss, and some would affect only themselves.
The researchers found that the subjects were two to three times more likely to delegate a decision that could negatively affect someone else than they were if they alone suffered the consequences.
“People care more about avoiding blame for bad outcomes than getting credit for good outcomes,” said lead researcher Mary Steffel, in a press release.
There are a variety of reasons why people “pass the buck,” says Dr. Kevin Krippner, an Advocate Medical Group psychologist at the Advocate BroMenn Outpatient Center in Bloomington, Ill. “Sometimes individuals are very concerned about making a decision that would provide some type of adverse outcome to someone else, especially if they fear the other person will become upset with them.”
In one experiment, subjects were either booking an unappealing hotel choice for themselves, for their boss who would not know they had made the arrangements, or for their boss who would know they made the decision. The results showed that in either scenario with their boss, the subjects were more likely to “pass the buck” to someone else.
“Delegation isn’t just about avoiding blame,” said Steffel. “The mere prospect of feeling responsible for others’ poor outcomes is enough to increase delegation.”
Dr. Krippner agrees. “Delegating responsibility to others also occurs more frequently when the potential bad outcome is greater,” he says. “I have found that when decisions can only have a minor impact in a person’s life, they are more likely to make the decision without worrying about consequences.”
Researchers concluded that the study results are “consistent with the notion that people delegate primarily to cede responsibility and blame, not [to] put choices in the hands of more capable decision makers.”
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