Help Wanted: The Upside of Seeking Advice

group of raised hands
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It’s tough to admit that you don’t know something or need help solving a problem. Who wants to look like the class fool, right? But new research from the Harvard Business School (HBS) shows that raising your hand actually comes across as a sign of strength and competence.

To find out more, read Don't Fret: Seeking Advice May Be Seen as a Sign of Competence

In one of two related HBS studies, for example, students were asked to complete challenging brainteasers while paired with an anonymous partner — who turned out to be a computer program. That partner sent each student a message. For some, the message was, “I hope it went well.” For others it was, “Do you have any advice?”

At the end, the students were asked to rate their partner’s competence. The ones with the higher ratings? The partners who asked for advice.

How come? Researchers think that asking for help could signal vulnerability and increase trust. Additionally, as tough as it is to ask for help, most people love extending a hand to others.


"Seeking advice is likely to be particularly beneficial for older adults,” says Alison Wood Brooks, who coauthored the research. “Young people have access to lots of new, fresh, current ideas and knowledge, and I think young people are particularly flattered to be asked for advice from someone who is older, wiser and potentially higher-status than them.”

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