More and more I’m seeing the power of giving — and taking — advice.
In my interview with Jeffrey Pfeffer (Stanford professor and author of Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t) he said the best way to build a strategic relationship with someone far more powerful than you was merely to ask their advice:
I would say that the fundamentally best way to build a relationship with someone is to ask them for their advice. And/or what you can often do, as part of the same conversation, ask them to describe their own career and their own career success. Because nothing makes people happier than talking about their favorite subject, which is, of course, themselves.
What’s the best way to influence someone? Wharton professor Adam Grant says the research points to asking for advice.
New research shows that advice seeking is a surprisingly effective strategy for exercising influence when we lack authority. In one experiment, researcher Katie Liljenquist had people negotiate the possible sale of commercial property. When the sellers focused on their goal of getting the highest possible price, only 8 percent reached a successful agreement. When the sellers asked the buyers for advice on how to meet their goals, 42 percent reached a successful agreement. Asking for advice encouraged greater cooperation and information sharing, turning a potentially contentious negotiation into a win-win deal. Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates. Advice seeking tends to be significantly more persuasive than the taker’s preferred tactics of pressuring subordinates and ingratiating superiors. Advice seeking is also consistently more influential than the matcher’s default approach of trading favors.
But what about when you need advice and there’s no one around to give it? When decisions need to be made quickly? When you’re afraid your advice seeking will be self-serving? What do you do then?
In my interview with Duke professor Dan Ariely (and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions) he advised you’re more likely to do the right thing if you take the “outside perspective” — in other words if you ask yourself, “What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?“:
If I had to give advice across many aspects of life, I would ask people to take what’s called “the outside perspective.” And the outside perspective is easily thought about: “What would you do if you made the recommendation for another person?” And I find that often when we’re recommending something to another person, we don’t think about our current state and we don’t think about our current emotions. We actually think a bit more distant from the decision and often make the better decision because of that.
In the new book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work the Heath brothers make the same recommendation:
The advice we give others, then, has two big advantages: It naturally prioritizes the most important factors in the decision, and it downplays short-term emotions. That’s why, in helping us to break a decision logjam, the single most effective question may be:
What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?
It sounds simple, but next time you’re stuck on a decision, try it out. You’ll be surprised how effectively that question can clarify things. The two of us have talked to many people about thorny personal or professional decisions they were facing, and often they seemed flummoxed about the right thing to do. Then we’d ask them the “best friend” question, and almost always— often within a matter of seconds!— they’d come up with a clear answer. Usually, they were a bit surprised by their own clarity. When we’d ask, “Do you think maybe you should take your own advice?” they’d admit, “Yes, I guess I should.”
So, in a pinch, the best advice might be the advice you give yourself.