Do you hesitate to ask your boss for advice for fear you will seem incompetent? Fear of looking stupid starts in school. If you were like me, you rarely raised your hand to ask the teacher for help. But here's the secret I learned when I became a teacher: The smart students ask questions in class. And the smart students get the best advice.
Right now, you might be reading this article because you have a project you were assigned and aren't sure of how to approach it, or you made a mistake and need to fix it. Whatever your particular issue is at the moment, asking your boss for advice is the best course of action. Studies have shown that those who ask for advice seem smarter.
And if you want to really succeed in your project, make it clear you're asking for advice and not an opinion.
The difference between advice and opinions
Semantically, there is little difference between getting someone's advice or getting their opinion. They are simply two ways to receive feedback.
Psychologically, however, there is a world of difference. How you ask for feedback can make the difference between being your boss's hero or your boss's goat, between having your boss's total buy-in for your idea or her total indifference, or between getting your boss's praise or your boss's scorn.
In his book Pre-Suasion, social psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini explains why. When you ask for an opinion, people take a step back to reflect and separate psychologically from you. The person will not feel invested in the outcome of your project.
On the other hand, when you ask someone for advice, you put the receiver in a merging state of mind that makes them feel invested in your personal success and the success of your project.
Why asking for advice creates investment
There are two psychological factors at work when we ask for advice: the IKEA effect and the power of co-creation.
If you're like me--and millions of others--at some point in life you've felt the frustration of putting together a piece of IKEA furniture with nothing more than your wits, a pictorial diagram, and a funky Allen wrench.
In the study called "The IKEA Effect," Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely found that when people successfully built something through their own efforts, even something as simple as an IKEA bookshelf, their investment in building the object made the bookshelf seem just as valuable as a professionally crafted bookshelf.
The power of co-creation builds on the IKEA effect. According to the study "The Illusions of Influence," researchers found people who have a hand in co-creating something come to feel not only an affinity for the creation but also for their co-creator.
In the research study, managers were involved in the ad creation for a new wristwatch. The researchers discovered two things when the ad was completed: first, the more involvement the managers had in generating the advertisement, the higher the managers would rate the quality of the ad compared to those who had little involvement.
Second, and more important for the power of advice, those same managers who co-created the advertisement not only attributed the success of the ad to their advice but they also attributed the success of the advertisement to the ability of the employee.
This is why it is important to always ask your boss for advice. The boss will fill invested in the success of your project and will attribute its success to your ability.