Underestimating Others’ Willingness to Help

We vastly underestimate how likely people are to provide assistance when asked, in both social settings and when soliciting funds.

That’s the verdict coming from research conducted by associate professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Frank Flynn. Flynn found that we underestimate how much others are willing to provide in financial assistance and the willingness of others to come to our assistance (by around 50%).

“People’s underestimation of others’ willingness to comply is driven by their failure to diagnose these feelings of social obligation on the part of others.”

One study found that those asking for help incorrectly believed it was more likely they would receive help if they were indirect about it—communicating their request with a look, rather than a direct question. In contrast, people in the position of offering assistance said they were much more likely to help if asked point blank. “That really puts the obligation on them, and makes it very awkward for them to refuse.” […]

“Other studies we’ve conducted indicate that people overestimate how likely it is that others will come to them for help,” Flynn continues. “This means not only are people not asking for help when in fact they could get it, but they’re not encouraging others to come to them for help when in fact they’re willing to offer it. That tells us that the ‘open-door’ policy is basically ineffective unless people are actively encouraged to use it.”

Remember, too: telling children not to talk to strangers isn’t the best advice.

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