Why people pass the buck when needed to make decisions that affect others

  • IANS
  • Updated: Aug 08, 2016 15:29 IST
People are two or three times as likely to assign an unappealing choice on behalf of someone else than one on their own behalf. (Pinterest)

When making a business decision, choosing a hotel, ordering meals, or even participating in experiments, people are more likely to assign decision making to others or “pass the buck” when faced with such choices that affect others.

However, it doesn’t happen when those decisions affect only themselves, says a new study.

The findings showed that decisions are more likely assigned, when it has potentially negative consequences.

People are two or three times as likely to assign an unappealing choice on behalf of someone else than one on their own behalf.

In an experiment, in the study, participants imagined that they or their bosses needed a hotel reservation for an upcoming business trip.

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They were more likely to assign the choice to an office manager when the reservation was for a boss than for themselves, especially when the options were unappealing two-star hotels rather than luxurious five-star hotels.

“People care more about avoiding blame for bad outcomes than getting credit for good outcomes,” said Mary Steffel, Assistant Professor at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, US.

In another experiment, participants were again faced with the challenge of choosing a hotel from a list of unappealing options.

The researchers found that people were more likely to assign when the reservation was for their bosses than for themselves, regardless of whether their bosses would know they made the reservation, showing that avoiding blame is not the only reason people delegate choices for others.

“Assigning isn’t just about avoiding blame,” Steffel said, adding, “the mere prospect of feeling responsible for others’ poor outcomes is enough to increase delegation.”

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Individuals avoided delegating if they themselves would still be held officially responsible for the choice outcomes, the researchers said.

In addition, they also avoided delegating to co-workers below them, regardless of who would be officially held responsible, because, researchers said, they believed that they would still maintain responsibility and blame if the choice were to turn out poorly.

The study sheds greater light on understanding when and to whom people are likely to delegate decisions.

Furthermore, “it also reflects why managers sometimes fail to delegate decisions to their employees even when not doing so creates organisational inefficiencies - because they expect to assume blame for the choice regardless of whether they made it themselves.” Steffel concluded in the study published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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