What’s the best way to influence others?
Ask for advice.
Via Adam Grant’s excellent Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:
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.
Some might say, “If I’m asking for advice, I look like I don’t know what I’m doing.” Nope.
Takers may fear that seeking advice might make them look weak, dependent, or incompetent. They’re wrong: research shows that people who regularly seek advice and help from knowledgeable colleagues are actually rated more favorably by supervisors than those who never seek advice and help.
Why does asking for advice work so well? People giving advice have to justify their decision to help you. If they’re making the effort, you must be a good person, right?.
When we give our time, energy, knowledge, or resources to help others, we strive to maintain a belief that they’re worthy and deserving of our help. Seeking advice is a subtle way to invite someone to make a commitment to us. Once the department head took the time to offer advice to Annie, he became more invested in her. Helping Annie generate a solution reinforced his commitment to her: she must be worthy of his time. If she wasn’t important to him, why would he have bothered to help her?
So now you’re just going to run around asking advice from everyone and be a modern day Svengali, controlling their minds?
Not so fast. It only works when you’re sincere.
But here’s the catch: advice seeking only works if it’s genuine. In her research on advice seeking, Liljenquist finds that success “depends on the target perceiving it as a sincere and authentic gesture.” When she directly encouraged people to seek advice as an influence strategy, it fell flat.
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