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New study shows: People don’t like their unselfish colleagues

August 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Spot the flaw in the following, ground-breaking research ….

PULLMAN, Wash. — You know those goody-two-shoes who volunteer for every task and thanklessly take on the annoying details nobody else wants to deal with?

That’s right: Other people really can’t stand them.

Four separate studies led by a Washington State University social psychologist have found that unselfish workers who are the first to throw their hat in the ring are also among those that coworkers most want to, in effect, vote off the island.

“It’s not hard to find examples but we were the first to show this happens and have explanations for why,” said Craig Parks, lead author of “The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members from the Group” in the current Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The phenomenon has implications for business work groups, volunteer organizations, non-profit projects, military units, and environmental efforts, an interest of Parks’ coauthor and former PhD student, Asako Stone.

Parks and Stone found that unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they “raise the bar” for what is expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will make everyone else look bad.

It doesn’t matter that the overall welfare of the group or the task at hand is better served by someone’s unselfish behavior, Parks said.

“What is objectively good, you see as subjectively bad,” he said.

The do-gooders are also seen as deviant rule breakers. It’s as if they’re giving away Monopoly money so someone can stay in the game, irking other players to no end.

The studies gave participants—introductory psychology students—pools of points that they could keep or give up for an immediate reward of meal service vouchers. Participants were also told that giving up points would improve the group’s chance of receiving a monetary reward.

In reality, the participants were playing in fake groups of five. Most of the fictitious four would make seemingly fair swaps of one point for each voucher, but one of the four would often make lopsided exchanges—greedily giving up no points and taking a lot of vouchers, or unselfishly giving up a lot of points and taking few vouchers.

Most participants later said they would not want to work with the greedy colleague again—an expected result seen in previous studies.

But a majority of participants also said they would not want to work with the unselfish colleague again. They frequently said, “the person is making me look bad” or is breaking the rules. Occasionally, they would suspect the person had ulterior motives.

Parks said he would now like to look at how the do-gooders themselves react to being rejected. While some may indeed have ulterior motives, he said it’s more likely they actually are working for the good of an organization.

Excluded from the group, they may say, “enough already” and simply give up.

“But it’s also possible,” he said, “that they may actually try even harder.”

The study is based on the reactions of psych students!

I had to spend a whole day with a psych student once. We were on a bridal party together. She stormed out of the reception and told the bride to “have a nice life” and we still don’t know why.

Maybe the authors of the study should try it again with participants randomly selected from the wider population? Just a thought. Yikes! (In the meantime, goody-goodies, take cover!)

The Meaning of Stuff

June 29, 2010 1 comment

Life seems to be preoccupied with stuff – the yearning for it, the pursuit of it, the acquisition, maintenance and the disposal of it.

If I were a bleached Brit rather than an Aussie, I might’ve called this piece, “The Joys and Sorrows of Possessions”, or “Possession Anxiety” and written 60,000 words to prove it. However, being the hardened pragmatist from the far-flung colonies, I shall persevere with “The Meaning of Stuff” and keep it short enough to read with coffee and several biscuits.

“Domestic Goddess”, “Spotless” and “No More Clutter” were but three of the most necessary but overlooked books rediscovered during our most recent house move. Their mere reappearance at that moment known as TOO LATE screamed F for fail. Did I think that the books would do the work for me? Perhaps. These self-help books related to the most challenging phase of possession obsession, namely the maintenance phase. Upon reflection, I was hot for the love of the chase in terms of possession relations, but unequivocally cool about what followed. Given the number of self-help books available, I was certain that I wasn’t alone in this guilt.

I’d had a week from the contract going unconditional to when it settled – a week to reorganise life from living big to living decidedly smaller. Being reminded of the old adage of Position Position Position was no comfort at all when not even half of our stuff would fit into the new-old place with views.

Fortunately, we’d had help galore from the long-suffering team known simply as “family”. They’d moved us that many times that really, we should all be good at it by now.

On a night when we could do no more and the new address was unbearably tight with boxes and stacked furniture, family stuck around and the great-grandmothers came to inspect and trip on things. All we needed was another four chickens inside (thanks to Miss Six), the six-kilo cat inside (thanks to Miss Nine) and the poodle-cross (or cross-poodle) to come home from grand-dad’s for a parole visit (after killing the last chicks) – thanks to the Auntie Who Thinks Of Everything. To use the choice vocabulary of last week’s Prime Minister (Mr Rudd), the place looked like it had been hit by a major shit-storm. Put another way, the moment was memorably execrable.

Once the elders who couldn’t hold their grog had left the building, we pulled out the champagne for the younger help, to see if it made us feel any better. One bottle at a time was opened, with nary a *pop*. Our pre-emptive celebrations were being thwarted and we should’ve taken it as an omen. Undeterred, we left the fourth bottle of champers in the fridge (we couldn’t take any more disappointment in one day), passed on the expired desserts and drank wine instead. We went to bed telling each other that things would surely be better tomorrow.

However, the next day manifested more angst, carrying on about how much stuff there was to move and how little time was left, particularly as the buyers were insisting on partially moving in before settlement. By the afternoon, the lone, brave and completely pissed off family member who remained with me through thick and thin (while Hubby and others returned to work), tied up the last trailer load for the day. We drove in a slow caravan of two 4WDs towing trailers. Nanna walked to bingo faster. Yet, it happened…. The big brown cargo bag (the type that gets tied to roof-racks) slipped off the second trailer and within the half an hour that it took us to realise, someone had picked it up. To this day, it is gone – four days and counting.

Out of everything that could’ve gone missing (and in 8 house moves in 15 years, nothing ever had), it had to be the bag with all the irreplaceable stuff – the pre-digital age wedding albums, baby albums from 1972 onwards, school photos from 1978 onwards, personal memorabilia, the original framed poem Rupert McCall wrote for me as a prize (which I’d had dedicated to my parents), childhood diaries… The things that had been protected for so many years, were gone.

Ringing the police every day and driving the route with eyes wide open scored nothing. It was when Hubby and I were tying up LOST signs on street poles and bus stops on what was the coldest night of winter, that I realised that I would’ve preferred to have lost something more tangible – a fridge, a couch – pretty much anything but the contents of that bag. While couches and fridges conjure up memories of how and when they were acquired, that miserable brown bag contained our whole family history – it was a recollection and celebration of our memories for when our memories fail us.

But then, while stringing up those signs with rigidly cold fingers, I had a thought about families who’d had to post LOST signs, in search of missing relatives, presuming they were dead, but hoping that they were not. With that sort of perspective, a person can pretty much let go of anything and still feel lucky.

So, in what was a physically and emotionally harrowing week, I learned something very important. In short, asset management is everything – otherwise the stuff we go to so much effort to accumulate becomes meaningless. We need good people around us to share the moments to attach significance to the stuff and as noted with the flat champagne times three episode, we can’t wait too long to share it – otherwise, all we’re left with is… stuff all ….

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