Spoiler alert, but none of us ever feel like we know what to do 100 percent of the time. So the right advice in the right moment is one of the most healing salves we've got, providing some direction and elevating our confidence to move forward. But here's an interesting aside--giving advice is a performance enhancer for the giver, not just the person listening.
Students who share come out on top
According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers had high school students participate in an online activity that prompted them to suggest study strategies to their peers. They answered a handful of multiple-choice questions and wrote letters to anonymous younger students who were hoping to do better in class.
When the researchers looked at the results, they found that the students who gave advice earned better report card grades in math and another self-selected target class over the academic quarter. Or put more simply, advice givers performed better.
Why giving your insight benefits you as much as your listener
The researchers still need to do more work before they can pinpoint more concretely what's behind the results. But they suggest that advice givers might do better because doling out insights provides a sense of power or influence, or because they come to believe more strongly in their own wisdom simply by sharing it.
Everyone (yes, everyone) has the potential to earn the perks
While this study focused on academic students, the study's authors assert that the benefits of giving advice apply far beyond the classroom--it could boost outcomes in a huge range of situations where you need good motivation to succeed, including the office. it supports previous research, for example, shows that giving advice is effective for unemployed people looking for work.
"It boils down to this," says lead researcher Dr. Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, "Employees ought to give as much or more [advice] than they receive. In my work, I find that nearly all human beings, supervisors included, intuitively believe that to motivate others, they should give them advice. This research suggests that, when it comes to motivating employees to work harder, having the target employees give advice to other colleagues can actually be more effective."
And while Eskreis-Winkler acknowledges that younger employees might not have years of technical expertise to draw on, she insists they still have plenty to give.
"All employees, regardless of what stage they are at in their career, have had to figure out how to motivate themselves--in school, in work and life. [...] Young people, just like older people, can share advice on their best tricks and strategies for staying motivated and getting work done. They can tell others what they do to motivate themselves or how to keep themselves from procrastinating, and ultimately, that may end up benefitting the employee [themselves]."
But let's rip the Band-Aid off and acknowledge a pretty big elephant in the room--older or senior-level workers don't always like getting advice. They can feel threatened by what they see as competition, or they can be settled into other ways of thinking.
In those cases, Eskreis-Winkler says, you might be able to find a way to pass along the advice in a more abstracted way without a face-to-face interaction. In the study, for example, the researchers essentially were middle men--they passed along the advice, and the advice givers and receivers never actually met.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't work hard to improve relationships to make everyone comfortable hearing everyone else out. But changing the messenger can be a temporary strategy that positively can influence the perception of the information until those relationships are more stable. And you still can be honest about the advice source, too (e.g., "You know, Karen said something I really valued yesterday about this..."). In essence, you use a person's trust in you to build their confidence in someone else and, subsequently, to make advice more palatable and viable.
Great advice, great culture
Higher-performing workers generally mean more profits, so the bottom line incentive for company leaders to encourage advice giving should be obvious. But as a final thought, consider that, to give advice, you first need to see someone who needs help. And that might be the biggest benefit--by teaching others to share what they know, you're teaching them to be a little less egocentric, to build a moral compass that includes being compassionate and inclusive to others. And that is arguably the holy grail of a company culture you truly can be proud of.