Asking for Advice Impresses Your Boss

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Aug. 26 2014 1:26 PM

Why You Should Always Ask for Advice

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It's good to ask for advice.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

People are often afraid to ask for advice, because asking for help “implies incompetence and dependence, and therefore is related to powerlessness.” But a new Harvard Business School–led study suggests that asking for advice makes you look more, not less, capable. “Individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent than those who do not seek advice,” the authors write. The reason: When you ask someone for advice, you validate his or her intelligence, experience, and expertise. And because you've made a person feel good, he or she feels good about you.  

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Similarly, the easiest way to win people over in conversation is to get them to keep talking about themselves. In other words, flattery—in the form of giving people time in the social spotlight—will get you everywhere. 

To confirm this, the research team led by Alison Wood Brooks did a series of experiments; go here for the whole summary. Let's focus on one revealing experiment. From Time:

[R]esearchers paired participants with an unseen partner that they could only communicate with over instant message.
The participants were then asked to do a brain teaser, before handing the task off to their partner. Once they'd finished the task, they received a message from their "partner" that either read, "I hope it went well. Do you have any advice?" or "I hope it went well." Later, when asked by the researchers, people rated the partners who asked for advice as being more competent than those who had simply wished them well. What's more, the harder the brain teaser, the more competent the advice-seeking "partners" were rated.

The carryover to office life: When you encounter a particularly woolly problem, don't hesitate to grab someone who has dealt with similar cases. There is a good chance they will actually think more of you afterward. “Not only is advice seeking beneficial for the spread of information, but it may also boost perceptions of competence for advice seekers and make advisors feel affirmed,” Brooks and her colleagues write. “By failing to seek advice, individuals and their organizations miss opportunities to share knowledge and improve interpersonal outcomes.” 

There's another bonus: By seeking advice, you expose a little bit of vulnerability, which scholars say is the currency people use to build relationships that predict greater well-being, better health, and better ideas. 

Drake Baer reports on strategy, leadership, and organizational psychology at Business Insider.

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