If you’ve ever been afraid or hesitant to ask for advice. Read this.

The failure of many employees to ask for advice keeps them from learning new and valuable skills/information every day at work.

So, the question remains: why don’t people ask for advice?

According to a recent paper by Professor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School, people frequently forego asking for advice out of the fear they will appear incompetent to coworkers or employers.

Turns out, that the opposite is true. People who look for advice are actually seen as more competent, as compared to those who don’t.

Speaking on the issue Brooks, another professor at the University, stated, “Information sharing is very important in organizations, 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.”

To gather their information for the paper, Gino analyzed the responses of many different college students and working adults, when asked about the impression they are left with when a coworker asks for advice.

While the overall findings are a good thumb rule, there are some twists and special cases to keep in mind.

Prior papers written by Gino suggest that anxious workers should wait until they are calm before asking for advice, as the emotional state could make them appear incompetent. Also they might not be able to make out if the advice given was of good quality.

Research also suggests those in neutral states often fail to take the advice offered to them, even if they are fine with hearing it. Gino claims that this “egocentric bias,” is what keeps people from taking advice that could prove helpful. This is good to keep in mind because you shouldn’t discount good advice due to the human tendency to think you know better. It’s good to be open to new perspectives.

The egocentric bias is more pronounced for those in power. Speaking on this issue, Gino states, “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.”

Further continuing her musings on how asking for advice affects social interaction in the workplace, Gino suggests that making your pursuit of advice seem flattering to the person you are asking can be helpful.

She believes this because, “By asking someone to share his or her personal wisdom, advice seekers stroke the adviser’s ego and can gain valuable insights. And remember people do not think less of you — they actually think you’re smarter.”


For more on this topic, listed to the following podcast from the HBR.

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