Principle 4:
That we do not volunteer others

Consider the following dialogue where the Principle:That we do not volunteer others, has not been practiced:

Darling, I thought we’d go to see Mum and Dad this weekend down in Sussex.

But I’ve arranged to play golf with Geoff!

Oh George you didn’t tell me.

Well, I didn’t know you were going to arrange to see your parents. You’ll have to go by yourself.

But I can’t, I said Gemma could have the car this weekend and she’s already taken it to go to the College ball.

Oh for Heaven’s sake, so what am I going to go to the golf club in? I wish you would check with me before you make all these arrangements.

Well I wish you’d tell me when you have arranged to go off and play golf again!

A classic scenario, full of confusion and complexity simply because both people volunteered the other. Just one of them consulting with the other would have created Effective Communication leading to an understanding of what was going on at the weekend and this would have prevented the ensuing mess.

Similar scenarios exist in various areas of life.

A child may have been picked to play for their school football team at the weekend, but, coming home with the good news he or she is told – ‘We are going to see your Auntie Mary this weekend’.

They have been volunteered to do something and have little ownership of the events in their life if they feel they cannot do anything about having been volunteered.

Some people may say: "But there isn't enough time to check with people, sometimes you have to just make a decision!" and that may feel true, and it may not cause a problem. But when it does, being aware of this Principle will give an insight into why it has occurred and thus an opportunity for developing better ways in the future.

The time taken up trying to untangle the complexity and confusion arising from volunteering others is often far greater than the time it would have taken to consult with them first in order to make a shared decision.

The effect on others of not practising this Principle:
Running alongside the additional time spent will usually be a feeling of anxiety or wariness - in the person volunteered - about it happening again in the future and, if it is repeated, there may be some form of resentment or anger or frustration arising from a feeling of powerlessness over their lives.

Principle 1

Principle 2

Principle 3

Principle 5

Principle 6

Principle 7

Principle 8

Principle 9

This is at the root of various conflicts and the destructive outcomes that arise from them, particularly because that feeling of powerlessness and the associated resentment or anger or frustration accumulates so quickly and easily in such situations.

Awareness of this Principle will often easily lead to an understanding of the apparent resistance or reluctance of others to 'co-operate' with us. It may not be that they do not want to help, but the way in which we have communicated our wish for this has not felt respectful and has implied that ownership of their decision to participate has been taken from them.

This often leads to a confusion within communication, as one party believes someone is being 'obstructive' or 'unhelpful' or 'unenthusiastic' towards a given aim or task or interest etc. while the other wants to be involved but does not wish to give away their autonomy as a result of doing so.

Countless pair, group or team efforts to achieve some, originally shared, aim will stumble over this confusion of issues arising from a lack of awareness of the Principle that we do not volunteer others.

Sometimes, of course, it is nice to be volunteered to do something....

I'm whisking you off to Paris at the weekend might be a very pleasant experience.

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This is why these Principles are not 'rules' they do not apply in every situation, they are just pointers towards the reasons communication breaks down when it does.

But even in this example, there is a giving up of autonomy in making a decision, which, if repeated often enough may not be so pleasant. After a lot of 'surprise' trips away the lack of ownership of the decision to go can start to feel more like an imposition than a pleasure:

But I can't go to Barcelona this weekend, I'm working on this project that has to be in by Monday. We only went to Paris last month.

You're so ungrateful, I've taken you on so many trips and now you feel you can just turn them down - they cost me a lot of money.

In the workplace....
At work, an employee can be expected to do something if it is defined in their job description as they have already volunteered themselves for the activity and signed a contract agreeing to do so.

However, when an employee is volunteered to do something that is not clearly part of their job description, there are inevitably either immediate consequences:

-they may refuse to do the activity they have been volunteered to do (if they feel powerful enough). They may then be labelled as rebellious or difficult or 'not a team player'.

Or there may be long term consequences:

-they may start to resent their employers for expecting them to do something they do not receive additional pay for and over which they feel powerless to refuse.

They may then appear apathetic and unenthusiastic and be labelled 'lazy' or 'not a good team player' (that guilt-trip again).

And when this happens across an entire workforce it is understandable that there will be difficulties.

But hang on, some bosses will cry, you can't avoid doing these things sometimes. Sure, and if that is so, that is the way it is. But accept there will be consequences rather than be surprised by them.

The Principles of Effective Communication can be used to raise awareness of the reasons a breakdown in communication occurs, and why it can lead to destructive conflict.

This gives us a choice about how we proceed and a way of understanding when things don't work out. It is also then our choice to learn from this. Or not.

It's certainly not anyone else's responsibility.

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

Return from That we don't volunteer others to Communication Page

.... or go to the 5th Principle: That we speak in the 'I'....


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I work at a homeless shelter/rehab and I teach a class on community living. This is a new field of employment for me. I can use this site for ideas for the class I teach.

This is going to be very interesting and educational for myself as well as others.

This site is a big help. Thank you!

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Working with 'Bullying'? - This may interest you….

Hello Alan Sharland

Thank you SO MUCH for this article! It brings forward some very key points about the phenomenon of "bullying" which I have been pondering for some while. Among others, asking to what extent can/should the person on the receiving end of the bullying/perceived to be bullying take responsibility/initiate steps to shift the paradigm? How can this happen without implying that the recipient is somehow responsible for the bullying behavior?

Laurie McCann, Campus Ombuds, Univ Calif Santa Cruz

Hi Alan,

You have put together an awesome web site with lots of fantastic materials.

John Ford - Managing Editor

Hi Alan, ..... your site is great. I've been reading all the material and have to say its already made a difference in how I sort out/manage some of life's little problems. JH - West London, UK


This article is the BEST article on questioning I have ever read and I'd like, with your permission, to pass it along to our mediators.Your examples of both genuinely open and 'not-so-open' with explanations are very insightful.

ML - Canadian Govt. Agency


Hi Alan

I have just spent hours on your site as I truly love the eclectic mix of reference material that you kindly share. From Gibran to Byron Katie and the fab youtube clips! I am making my free hugs poster as of now :-)

Anni with joyful smile :-)
Preston, UK