- Every day, employees have the opportunity to learn new information that could improve their performance, yet many fail to take advantage of it. They are afraid to ask for advice.
- People are often hesitant to seek advice because they fear it will make them appear incompetent, said Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. In fact, those who seek advice are perceived as more competent than those who do not,according to a recent paper that she wrote along with Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Maurice E. Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Information sharing is very important in organizations,” Professor Brooks said. “If everyone sat in their separate silos and never interacted with each other, they wouldn’t learn anything from each other. By not seeking advice, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to learn from your co-workers.”
- Researchers came to this conclusion by analyzing the responses of college students and working adults who were asked to give their impressions of people (a computer-simulated partner, in this case) who sought their advice on various written tests and tasks.
- But there are exceptions to these general findings. In previous research, Professor Gino, Professor Brooks and Professor Schweitzer found thatpeople who felt anxious should be cautious about seeking advice, because those who were less confident in their own judgments would be less able to discern whether a piece of advice was poor, or coming from someone with a clear conflict of interest.
- On the other hand, those in a neutral emotional state tend to discount the advice they receive, according to separate research by Professor Gino.
“Most people do not take advice from others, even if they don’t mind hearing it,” she said in an email. This stems from what psychologists call “egocentric bias,” in which people think they know better than others. Yet she has found that our perceptions of our own competence are often inaccurate.
- This effect is even stronger among people who feel powerful, Professor Gino found in another study, which she wrote along with Leigh Tost, of the University of Michigan, and Richard Larrick, of Duke University.
“People who feel powerful tend to resist the advice of others, because they experience the advice as a threat to their own claim to power and feel competitive with their advisers,” Professor Gino said.
- Being asked for advice is flattering. As Professor Gino said, “People commonly believe that asking for advice is inconsiderate — we don’t want to bother others.” But in fact, “by asking someone to share his or her personal wisdom, advice seekers stroke the adviser’s ego and can gain valuable insights,” she said. And regardless of whether you use the advice or not, “People do not think less of you — they actually think you’re smarter.”