When Not to Volunteer to Take One for the Team

July 8, 2019

As I covered in the previous post, taking one for the team is often the right way to go. But sometimes, you should not volunteer.

When to stick to your guns and not volunteer

  • When this is very, very important to you and/or your career. Maybe you need to attend because you are actively scouting for a new job. Naturally, you can’t say that but you need to go.
  • When you think it’s somebody else’s turn. You may already know that, for example, Tim has been to the conference every year for the last five.
  • When you feel you are being unfairly pressured. It’s not as probable in the scenario I’ve laid out, but if you feel that you’re targeted, you may want to resist.

How do you avoid being a volunteer?

In the original scenario, your boss, Gwen, asked YOU, Tim, or Sacha to forego the conference. Let’s pick up the conversation from that point.



I was kind of hoping for a volunteer.

DO NOT be the first to speak no matter the length of the silence. The first to speak often puts himself into the position of having to defend his preference.


When things have gotten really uncomfortable—


Well, I can see that no one wants to offer. Why don’t we go around saying why it’s important to you?

Again, do not speak first unless—


Why don’t YOU go first?

Just state the facts. Be specific but not defensive.


It really helps my work. I make contacts—like George Adelson—who have helped us out. I also used the XYZ technique from the conference on the Ivy project.

Don’t get into an I-learned-more-than-you piss fight with Tim. Say nothing.


Well, I made a lot of good contacts and I learned a lot, too.


Me, too. I really want to go.

DO NOT say:

If Gwen were planning to, she’d have already said so. You make no friends by suggesting this.


Gwen, you’ve attended the most conferences. Why don’t you bow out this year?

Also a bad idea:


Tim, you’ve gone a lot of times. Maybe you should sit this one out.


Everybody knows who you’re talking about but it is less pointed.


Maybe we could pick based on who has gone to the fewest conferences.


No way, that’s not fair. I need to keep up on the trends.

It’s Gwen’s decision. DO NOT do her job for her. Don’t argue with Tim. Let her respond.


Well, I guess everyone feels that way.


But it seems to me that this year’s conference is least related to YOUR work. Maybe we should decide that way.

Here, faking being a team player is useful.


Well, naturally, I want to do what’s best for the team but I bring a lot back from the conference which we use in our work. Like last year’s conference.


Still, if nobody wants to volunteer, I think we have to go with whose work is least relevant.

You’ve lost. Take it gracefully.


Well, I think it’s relevant but if you think that it’s right for the team…

You may feel inclined to argue more and try to justify why the conference is still relevant. Might work, but a long argument can do you damage. Let’s talk about that in the next post.

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