How asking for advice benefits you or a trick leaders know about

Do you sometimes refrain from asking for advice when you could clearly benefit from it? Allow me to make some bold assumptions here, and you tell me if I’m wrong or right. What holds you back from getting the answer you are looking for is the fear to look less competent in the eyes of the potential advisor. Sound right? You prefer to hide a challenge you are facing, keep it to yourself and spend hours, if not days, researching for an answer, when right there, across a corridor, in the same city, or in your LinkedIn list of connections, there is a person who has relevant experience and who will be glad to help you. 

Yes, you’ve read it correctly, they will be glad to help you

Of course, we all have our duties, deadlines, and ambitions. Every single moment everyone makes a deliberate choice of how to spend their time. For example, I’m deliberately spending my time right now to write this article and help a wider audience to see things from a different perspective, then, let’s say, spend some time with a friend. However, given that a person has got the time to spare, research shows that they will actually be enthusiastic to give you a piece of advice.

This is a research done in 2015 with more than 1000 responders and it proves that many individuals exaggerate the harmful consequences of seeking advice and undervalue its benefits. 

Let me summarize the eye-opening insights from this research. 

  1. Contrary to conventional beliefs, asking for advice increases perceptions of competence of the advice seeker.
  2. When the task is difficult, asking for advice causes advice seekers to appear more competent than they do when the task is not difficult.
  3. When the task is easy, asking for advice confers no benefit. Meaning that when the task was easy, seeking advice did not harm perceptions of competence.
  4. Advisors perceive advice seekers as more competent when they are asked for their advice personally, but not when they observe an advice seeker consulting another person. People discounted the act of seeking advice when they were not asked for advice themselves. 
  5. Being asked for advice caused advisors to feel more self-confident (as a psychological response to the feeling of flattery) and, in turn, to view the advice seeker more positively.
  6. The relationship between advice-seeking and perceptions of competence depends on the advisor’s expertise:
  • If the advice seeker asks for guidance in an area that the advisor knows well, then the advice seeker appears competent.
  • If the advice seeker asks for advice in an area that the advisor does not know well, then the advice seeker seems less competent than if he or she had not asked for advice. “They are incompetent to ask for my advice because I obviously don’t know anything about this topic”.

I find these insights quite fascinating frankly. So next time I am in doubt, I will remember that I can make a person who might have more information than me feel affirmed. Next time you are in doubt, do not undervalue the benefits of seeking advice and remember that not only it may provide you with the necessary answer fast, but it will also boost the perception of your competence in the eyes of advisors. 

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