Why asking for advice makes people think you’re smarter

Matteo Achilli (R) works with one of his assistants in his office in Formello, north of Rome July 25, 2013. Achilli, dubbed the Italian Zuckerberg by Panorama Economy, is the 21-year-old founder of Egomnia, a social network created to match companies looking to hire graduate job seekers. According to Achilli, Egomnia, which was founded in February 2012, has around 100,000 users, about 600 multinational companies in Italy as clients and a 2013 sales volume of about 500,000 euros. Picture taken July 25, 2013.REUTERS/Tony Gentile (ITALY - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) - RTX1201Y

But be wary of really dumb questions, research has found Image: REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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We’ve all been there. That moment at work when you have no idea what you’re meant to be doing, but are too scared to ask. No one wants to look stupid, after all.

Well don’t worry, Harvard Business School researchers have found that asking questions makes you more likeable – and could even make people think you’re smarter.

“We have the wrong mindset when thinking about asking for advice,” explained Francesca Gino and Alison Wood Brooks. “We actually view people who seek our advice as much more competent than people who forego the opportunity to seek advice.”

This is why you should ask questions

It’s a familiar feeling for pretty much everyone. You have a question, but you’re worried the answer is obvious. So, you just don’t ask, in case your colleagues think less of you.

However, as Wood Brooks explained in an interview with Harvard Business Review, this is not true. “This belief that if you go to ask for advice from someone they’re going to think you’re incompetent and you can’t complete the task on your own is misplaced,” she said.

Ultimately, being asked for advice is flattering. It implies, as the questioner, you think the person you’re asking is smart. Conversely, they’ll think you’re smart, because you’re being proactive in completing the task to the best of your ability.

Their research also found that asking questions – and, importantly, listening to the answer – makes you more likeable. This is as true for bosses as it is for the rest of the staff. “Because you’re making yourself vulnerable and letting people see that you don’t know everything, you can be trusted more,” explained Francesca Gino. “And you’re going to be liked more.”

What about ‘dumb questions’?

"Dumb questions" do exist, agreed Gino. If the task is extremely easy, then you might be better off keeping your question to yourself. However, as she reminded us: “Most of the things that we do at work have some level of difficulty, and so we shouldn’t be thinking that others are going to think we’re incompetent if we ask.”

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