Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

07970 638857


Does Bystander Apathy Have An Impact On Networking?

How to take the initiative and start the referral process ...



Many years ago, I was driving along a road in Ealing and got caught up in a traffic jam. After a good few minutes, when the traffic was still not moving and nothing was coming the other way, I leaned out the window to see what was holding us up ...

The Good Samaritan by Paula Modersohn-Becker is a perfect example of bystander apathy

The Good Samaritan by Paula Modersohn-Becker is a perfect example of bystander apathy

To my amazement, about six cars in front of me, a man was leaning into a car window and punching the living daylights out of the driver. Everyone else was just sitting in their cars watching!

"Bear in mind this was before we had mobile phones!"

I leapt out of my car and shouted to everyone to help. Something on the lines of "don't just sit there, do something!" and then yelled at the chap attacking the driver, "What are you doing?" Upon which, a couple of other people then got out of their cars and the chap ran away.

Someone then went up to see if the driver was OK and after a few minutes they drove away and we all got back into our cars and went about our business.

I was reminded about this incident this week when reading about the psychological phenomenon called Bystander apathy!

There have been many anecdotal accounts (like mine) reported and experiments done that show the more people who witness a person needing help, the less likely it is that any one person will actually help them. We all wait for someone else to make the first move.

Now, in some cases, this may be fear of getting hurt yourself (that could have happened to me). However, the experiments that have been done were all in situations where the helper wouldn't have put themselves in danger by reacting.

In one experiment, all the researcher did was drop a load of pencils and see if people offered to help them pick them up. If only one person was there then 40% of the time they offered help, if two or more people were there that dropped to 20%.

Another classic experiment of bystander apathy is one most of us will have experienced. What do we do when the fire alarm goes off? Most people look around at what other people are doing. If no-one else looks worried or gets up to move then neither do we. Eventually, if the alarm keeps ringing, someone will suggest moving and then people will move. What stops us? Maybe fear of embarrassment if seen to be over-reacting?

"So what's the relevance of this to networking?"

Well, I've witnessed (and been part of) many different networking groups in the 14 years I've been in business. I've seen that some just never seem to get to that stage of passing referrals between them.

Although the format of the group does play a part, I have noticed this with highly disciplined groups as well as more informal groups. It's like everyone is waiting for everyone else to make that first move. An observation I had was that as soon as a few people take the initiative then the behaviour spreads.

Actually, it is a series of behaviours that will result in referrals. I have often seen, even in groups that offer training, that the training is not, in fact, put into practice within the group. Everyone is waiting for everyone else to be the first to do it.

Lastly, imagine being a new group member and needing help to settle in and learn the ropes? Who will help if everyone is waiting for everyone else to take on the task of helping the newcomer?

So my tip for you is to take your leadership skills out networking with you.

  • Take the initiative and start the giving.

  • Make other's contributions to your success visible too.

  • Take advantage of training that is offered and put it into practice.

  • Tell others about how doing those things have helped you and help them do it too.

  • Be the one who welcomes the newcomer into the fold and gets them started.

I still remember and feel a loyalty to the people who did this for me.

If you're new to networking and need some help and advice about how best to give and receive referrals, or maybe you're a networking group leader that needs to tweak how you do it, give me a call on 07970 638857 or click here to send me an email enquiry and let's see how I can help you.

Until next time ...


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