Smart People Ask For (My) Advice: Seeking Advice Boosts .

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MANAGEMENT SCIENCEDownloaded from informs.org by [128.103.149.52] on 13 August 2015, at 09:46 . For personal use only, all rights reserved.Vol. 61, No. 6, June 2015, pp. 1421–1435ISSN 0025-1909 (print) ISSN 1526-5501 (online)http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2014.2054 2015 INFORMSSmart People Ask for (My) Advice:Seeking Advice Boosts Perceptions of CompetenceAlison Wood Brooks, Francesca GinoNegotiation, Organizations and Markets Unit, Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts 02163{awbrooks@hbs.edu, fgino@hbs.edu}Maurice E. SchweitzerOperations and Information Management Department, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania,Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, schweitzer@wharton.upenn.eduAlthough individuals can derive substantial benefits from exchanging information and ideas, many individuals are reluctant to seek advice from others. We find that people are reticent to seek advice for fearof appearing incompetent. This fear, however, is misplaced. We demonstrate that individuals perceive thosewho seek advice as more competent than those who do not. This effect is moderated by task difficulty, advisoregocentrism, and advisor expertise. Individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent when thetask is difficult rather than when it is easy, when people seek advice from them personally rather than when theyseek advice from others and when people seek advice from experts rather than from nonexperts or not at all.Keywords: advice; advice seeking; competence; impression management; egocentrism; help seekingHistory: Received August 30, 2012; accepted August 12, 2014, by Yuval Rottenstreich, judgment and decisionmaking. Published online in Articles in Advance February 13, 2015.1.Introductionreflect an inability to complete tasks independently(e.g., Lee 2002). By contrast, we expect and find evidence that when tasks are difficult, seeking adviceincreases perceptions of competence. Third, we highlight the important role that advisor expertise andegocentrism play in evaluating advice seekers.Many organizations require their members to complete challenging tasks in novel environments (Geddeset al. 1999, Griffin et al. 2007). In these settings, individuals derive significant benefits from learning information from others (Larrick and Soll 2006, Nadler et al.2003, Surowiecki 2003). Prior work has often assumedthat individuals will seek advice when they need it(Vancouver and Morrison 1995, Wills and DePaulo1993). In practice, however, individuals routinely failto seek advice (Lee 1997, Van der Vegt et al. 2006).Deciding to seek or not to seek advice can haveprofound consequences, both for the individual andfor the broader organization (Haas and Hansen 2007).Although a substantial literature has investigatedhow people respond to advice when advice is available to them (e.g., Bonaccio and Dalal 2006, Gino2008, Gino and Schweitzer 2008, Larrick and Soll 2006,Yaniv 2004, Yaniv and Kleinberger 2000), surprisinglylittle prior work has investigated the critical decisionthat precedes this process: the decision to seek advice.In this paper, we investigate the interpersonal consequences of seeking advice. This line of inquirymakes several theoretical contributions. First, webreak new ground in the advice literature by considering the advisor’s perspective and by focusing onthe understudied advice-seeking process. Second, weidentify a failed mental model with respect to adviceseeking. Extant work suggests that seeking help may1.1. AdvicePrior advice research has largely focused on how individuals respond to advice. This work has found thatalthough individuals routinely underweight others’advice (Bonaccio and Dalal 2006, Yaniv 2004, Yanivand Kleinberger 2000), several factors influence howreceptive individuals are to advice, including characteristics of the advisor (Feng and MacGeorge 2006;Sniezek and Buckley 1995; Sniezek et al. 2004; Yaniv1997, 2004; Yaniv and Kleinberger 2000; Yaniv andMilyavsky 2007), characteristics of the advice (e.g.,Goldsmith 1992, 1999; Patt et al. 2006), characteristicsof the decision context (e.g., Gardner and Berry 1995,Gibbons et al. 2003, Gino and Moore 2007, Goldsmith2000), and characteristics of the advice recipient (e.g.,Cooper 1991, Gino et al. 2012, See et al. 2011, Tostet al. 2012).Related research has examined how individuals giveadvice. That work has explored differences betweengiving advice to another person and making thesame decision for oneself (Jonas and Frey 2003, Jonaset al. 2005, Kray 2000, Kray and Gonzalez 1999).1421

Downloaded from informs.org by [128.103.149.52] on 13 August 2015, at 09:46 . For personal use only, all rights reserved.1422Brooks, Gino, and Schweitzer: Seeking Advice Boosts Perceptions of CompetenceCompared with making decisions for oneself, givingadvice to others causes an individual to consider fewerattributes of the decision and to give more weight tosocially desirable dimensions (Jonas and Frey 2003,Kray 2000, Kray and Gonzalez 1999).Surprisingly, prior advice research has largelyneglected the decision to seek advice. In fact, thedominant experimental paradigm in advice researchomits the advice-seeking process altogether. In thisparadigm, individuals make an initial judgment,view another person’s judgment of the same stimuli, and then revise their initial judgment. Using thisparadigm, extant advice research has focused on howpeople react to unsolicited advice.A few studies, however, have considered the factors that lead people to solicit advice from others andthe type of people they reach out to. These studieshave found that decision makers are more likely toseek advice from advisors who are accurate, trustworthy, and accessible than those who are not (Hofmannet al. 2009, Yaniv and Kleinberger 2000). In addition, individuals are more likely to seek advice whenthey are uncertain about their initial decision (Cooper1991, Gibbons et al. 2003), when they feel anxious(Gino et al. 2012), when the cost of seeking adviceis low (Gino 2008, Schrah et al. 2006), and when theproblem is complex (Schrah et al. 2006, Sniezek andBuckley 1995).1.2. Advice SeekingWe conceptualize advice seeking as a type of helpseeking behavior. Hofmann et al. (2009) define helpseeking as “the act of asking others for assistance,information, advice, or support” (p. 1262). When anindividual seeks help, she is asking others to expendresources (e.g., mental effort, time, money) to benefitherself (Lee 2002). In most cases, the help seeker aimsto reduce her costs to achieve a desired outcome (e.g.,asking a peer if she can copy his homework or askinga tutor for help; see Nelson-Le Gall 1985). When people seek advice from others, they are asking others torecommend either a solution or a process to addressa challenge (e.g., Albrecht and Goldsmith 2003, Gino2008, Goldsmith and Fitch 1997, Goldsmith and MacGeorge 2000, Harvey ans Fischer 1997). For instance,someone considering several job offers might seekadvice about which offer to accept or how to reasonthrough the decision.Advice seeking differs from other help-seekingbehaviors in three important ways. First, advice seeking elicits information for a prescriptive course ofaction. Second, the advice seeker retains agency inthe decision process. In other help-seeking domains,the individual seeking help may share or relinquish decision-making control. That is, seeking adviceinvolves asking another person what course of actionManagement Science 61(6), pp. 1421–1435, 2015 INFORMShe or she would recommend; other forms of helpseeking involve asking another person to take actionon one’s behalf. Third, advice seeking implies congruence between the advice seeker’s values and thoseof the adviser. The advice seeker’s willingness to follow the advice is an implicit assumption of adviceseeking (Liljenquist 2010). It is important to note thatpeople may seek advice strategically—without theintention of relying on the advice they receive—asan impression management tool. Although seekingadvice strategically is likely to be a different experience for the advice seeker than seeking advice withthe intention of using it, from the advisor’s perspective, strategic advice seeking may elicit the same perceptual effects as authentic advice seeking because theadvice seeker’s intentions (and her reliance on advice)are often unobservable.It is also important to distinguish advice seekingfrom feedback seeking. Although advice seeking andfeedback seeking both solicit information from others(see Otero and Graesser 2001, Rioux 2005, Savolainen1995), the type of information they solicit is verydifferent. The temporal focus of feedback seekingis different from advice seeking, and the nature ofthe information being sought also differs. Whereasadvice seeking solicits help for a current or upcomingproblem or decision, feedback seeing solicits information about past performance (see Ashford et al. 2003,Morrison and Bies 1991).Both advice seeking in particular and help seekingin general are important to organizations. The decision to seek help involves potential costs and benefits for the self and the organization (e.g., Muellerand Kamdar 2011). Existing help-seeking research haslargely focused on the intrapsychic consequences ofseeking and giving help (Grant and Ashford 2008,Podsakoff et al. 2000). Across many domains, seeking help improves learning, creativity, and performance (e.g., Lee 1997). For example, children whoseek help develop better systematic problem-solvingskills (Nelson-Le Gall 1981). In organizations, seekinghelp enables individuals to acquire new skills, achievebetter outcomes, and attain higher levels of satisfaction (Tyre 1992, Tyre and Ellis 1993).To date, little is known about the interpersonal consequences of help seeking, such as how help seekingtriggers reciprocity (Mueller and Kamdar 2011). Thisis a surprising omission because help seeking is inherently interpersonal (Anderson and Williams 1996). Ina review of the help-seeking literature, Bamberger(2009) calls for a comprehensive understanding of theunderlying interpersonal dynamics of help seeking.The few investigations that have considered the interpersonal effects of help seeking have largely focused on negative consequences. Although adviceseeking may be an effective strategy to project warmth

Brooks, Gino, and Schweitzer: Seeking Advice Boosts Perceptions of CompetenceDownloaded from informs.org by [128.103.149.52] on 13 August 2015, at 09:46 . For personal use only, all rights reserved.Management Science 61(6), pp. 1421–1435, 2015 INFORMSand invoke commitment from an advisor (Liljenquist2010, Liljenquist and Galinsky 2007), most prior workconjectures that individuals who seek help incur socialcosts, because they appear incompetent (Karabenickand Knapp 1988, Lee 1997), dependent on others(DePaulo and Fisher 1980, Druian and DePaulo 1977),powerless (Lee 1997), or inferior (Ames and Lau 1982).We challenge the presumption that seeking adviceharms advisors’ perceptions of the advice seeker.Instead, we expect advice seekers to derive benefitsfrom seeking advice. Specifically, we expect advisorsto perceive individuals who ask for advice as morecompetent than those who do not.2.Advice Seeking andImpression ManagementIn this paper, we disentangle two consequences ofseeking advice. We separate how seeking advice influences objective performance and impression management.Although seeking out and relying on advice is likelyto improve objective performance, it is unclear howseeking advice influences impression management.Consistent with Lee’s (2002) conjecture that seekinghelp signals an inability to complete tasks independently, individuals may fear that asking for advicemay also signal a lack of competence.Individuals are motivated to manage the impressions they make on others and feel anxious aboutcreating a negative impression. In fact, a substantialamount of social anxiety derives from the innate fearof negative evaluation (e.g., Leary 1983, Weeks et al.2010). Prior work suggests that powerless individuals are more likely to rely on advice, and individuals may believe that relying on advice signals weakness (Lee 2002, See et al. 2011, Tost et al. 2012). As aconsequence of these beliefs, people may be reluctantto seek advice. We expect individuals to avoid seeking advice, even when they would benefit from it, toavoid appearing incompetent.However, concerns about appearing incompetentmay be misplaced. Whereas potential advice seekersmay avoid seeking advice because they fear creatinga negative impression, seeking advice may actuallyboost impression management by increasing perceptions of competence. Advisors may positively assessadvice seekers, but potential advice seekers may failto anticipate this. Perspective taking is difficult (Ameset al. 2008, Davis 1983, Epley et al. 2006, Galinsky andMoskowitz 2000), and we consider the possibility thatadvice seekers misperceive the impression management consequences of seeking advice.In practice, advice seeking may boost perceptionsof competence for several reasons. First, the act ofseeking advice may convey wisdom. Seeking advice isan efficient way to gather information (e.g., Tyre and1423Ellis 1993), and advisors may recognize this. Second,seeking advice can convey confidence. Although feeling confident decreases advice taking (See et al. 2011,Magee 2009), seeking advice may demonstrate vulnerability and willingness to take a risk, signaling one’sconfidence about overcoming the potential interpersonal costs of seeking advice (Borgatti and Cross2003). Third, like being praised or receiving a sincerecompliment, being sought for advice can stroke anadvisor’s ego. By seeking advice, individuals mayflatter the advisor and improve the advisor’s perceptions of the advice seeker (Cialdini 2001).2.1.The Moderating Roles of Task Difficulty,Advisor Ego, and Advisor ExpertiseWe investigate the moderating effects of task difficulty, ego involvement, and advisor knowledge. Taskdifficulty is a prominent feature of any task and islikely to moderate the relationship between askingfor advice and perceptions of competence. Individuals often seek advice when they lack expertise andthe decisions they face are difficult (e.g., investmentdecisions or healthcare decisions; see Gino and Moore2007). When tasks are difficult, asking for advice maysubstantially improve decision quality, and the advisor may perceive the decision to seek advice as highlycompetent. For difficult tasks, the decision to seekadvice reflects recognition of one’s own limitationsand is an effective approach for making good decisions. However, when the task is easy, the advisormay perceive that the advice seeker lacks the competence to complete an easy task and lacks the judgmentto discern when imposing on others is a reasonablestrategy.The benefits of seeking advice are also likely to bemoderated by advisor ego. In general, people holdpositive views of themselves (e.g., Taylor and Brown1988) and enjoy flattery, even when it is insincere(e.g., Chan and Sengupta 2010, Merkle and Weber2011). Seeking advice is a gesture that acknowledgesthe advisor’s expertise and can affirm the advisor’spositive self-view (e.g., “She thinks I am knowledgeable”). Individuals may believe that their own adviceis particularly useful and judge the advice seeker tobe especially competent when the advice seeker asksfor the advisor’s advice specifically. We do not expectto observe the same boost in perceived competencewhen the advice seeker asks for advice from a thirdparty.Finally, the benefits of seeking advice are likelyto disappear (or even reverse) when the advisoris unambiguously ill-equipped to give advice. Weexpect that when a potential advisor admits his orher own lack of expertise, then seeking advice fromthat individual will make the advice seeker seem lesscompetent than not seeking advice at all or seekingadvice from someone else.

Brooks, Gino, and Schweitzer: Seeking Advice Boosts Perceptions of CompetenceDownloaded from informs.org by [128.103.149.52] on 13 August 2015, at 09:46 . For personal use only, all rights reserved.1424Management Science 61(6), pp. 1421–1435, 2015 INFORMS2.2. The Present ResearchWe investigate perceptions of advice seeking acrosseight experimental studies. In Pilot Studies A and B,we explore the impression management concerns thatmay prevent people from seeking useful advice. Then,in Studies 1–5, we assess the actual impressions people make when they seek advice.3.Pilot Study AThis pilot study required metacognition becauseparticipants considered a hypothetical scenario andengaged in perspective taking. In Pilot Study B, weextend our investigation of lay beliefs about adviceseeking to a laboratory setting to directly investigateimpression management expectations.4.Pilot Study BWe conducted two pilot studies to investigate laybeliefs about advice seeking. In Pilot Study A, we survey people’s lay beliefs about the interpersonal consequences of seeking advice.In Pilot Study B, we explore how concerns aboutimpression management influence advice-seekingbehavior. Specifically, we investigate whether concerns about creating an impression of incompetencemotivate individuals to avoid seeking advice.3.1.4.1.Method3.1.1. Participants. We recruited 302 adults viaAmazon’s Mechanical Turk (142 male; Mage 35040,SD 12077) to participate in an online study inexchange for 0.50. Across all studies, we recruitedour sample sizes based on an estimate of effect sized 002 and studies powered at 80%.3.1.2. Procedure. We asked participants to readone of two versions of a scenario in a betweensubjects design. In the scenario, the focal actor eitherdid or did not seek advice:Imagine that you are working on an important projectat work. While working on this project, you encountera problem that you are not sure how to solve. You consider asking a coworker for advice. If you decide [not]to ask a coworker for advice, the coworker will 0 0 0 0Participants then predicted how the coworkerwould perceive their competence by indicating theiragreement with three items adapted from Mayer andDavis’s (1999) measure of competence (“My partnerwill think I am very capable of solving problems,”“My partner will feel very confident about my skills,”and “My partner will think I am well qualified”; 0083) on a seven-point scale (ranging from 1 strongly disagree to 7 strongly agree).3.2. Results and DiscussionWe found a significant difference in projected perceptions of competence between advice-seeking conditions. Individuals believed their coworker wouldview them as less competent when they asked foradvice (M 4050, SD 0099) than when they didnot (M 5069, SD 0075) (t43025 11077, d 1035,p 000001).In this study, respondents reported that seekingadvice from a coworker, compared with not seeking advice, would make them appear less competent. These findings support our prediction thatpeople believe seeking advice harms impressionmanagement.Method4.1.1. Participants. We recruited 199 students(77 male; Mage 20022, SD 1054) from a northeastern university in the United States to participate in astudy in exchange for a 10 show-up fee and additional payment based on performance.4.1.2. Design and Procedure. We randomly assigned participants to one of two between-subjectsconditions: performance versus perception. In bothconditions, we asked participants to complete thesame seven IQ questions. In the performance condition, we paid them 1 for each correct answer. In theperception condition, we told participants they wouldbe paid based on their partner’s rating of their competence, on a scale from 1 to 7 ( 1 for each point).Our primary dependent variable was discrete (multiple choice). Before completing a “challenging brainteaser,” participants could send a message to their(computer-simulated) partner, who had purportedlycompleted the brain teaser earlier in the study. Weasked participants to choose one of the following messa

advice strategically is likely to be a different experi-ence for the advice seeker than seeking advice with the intention of using it, from the advisor’s perspec-tive, strategic advice seeking may elicit the same per-ceptual effects as authentic advice seeking because the advice seeker’s intentions (and her reliance on advice)

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