The Bystander Effect
If you are a leader or someone who gives talks, you'd have experienced a crushing silence that follows a call for "Any Questions?". You can see questions on the faces of your audience, but why won't anyone speak up?
Sadly, this is normal. Humans are social beings. We take cues about what public behaviour is socially acceptable by observing each other. On average, we don't like standing out, or taking risks. You don't want to be the person to admit you can't understand the CEO's new mission statement.
In some cases, it can have tragic consequences. An accident happens on the roads. Screams are heard from a nearby house located in a dense neighbourhood. You smell a little bit of smoke in an auditorium.
What do we do? We wait to see how others behave. Just in case, it's a false alarm or you're just imagining things. Why should you look like a fool, or shoulder responsibility? It's called the Bystander Effect.
And so you wait for someone else to ask the first question.
Enter Dan Ariely's hack
It's the first lecture of the season for psychologist and professor Daniel Ariely, for a Psychology 101 class of 100+ students. He talks for a long time, piling jargon over jargon. He even throws in a completely made-up concept or two.
No one (and these are bright students at Duke University) asks a question.
Then Ariely reveals the catch: "I'm sure none of you understood a single thing I just spoke about. But none of you asked a question. If you were alone with me, you'd have stopped me long back."
It's the first lesson in psychology for these students.
As for us, it's a reminder that the environment plays a huge role in behaviour. And if you want to elicit questions from your smart audience, you better learn to break that invisible wall.
Every single leader we've worked with has told us: "our employees don't ask enough questions". While we've amassed a few tricks to help them with this, we wanted to ask: do you face this? What do you do to overcome it. Hit the comment button and tell us - we'd love to know.