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It’s contrary to conventional wisdom, but according to results from Harvard researchers, feedback often has no impact on our performance, even though many people prioritize feedback over advice.
Asking others for feedback often leads to vague, less useful input, argue the researchers from Harvard Business School.
The authors explain, “Our latest research suggests a better approach. Across four experiments — including a field experiment conducted in an executive education classroom — we found that people received more effective input when they asked for advice rather than feedback.”
The word “feedback” encourages people to think about where they currently are. It’s often associated with the evaluation of past performance, and people who give feedback don’t focus on how you can improve.
“When asked to provide feedback (versus advice), givers focus too much on evaluating the recipient, which undermines their ability to generate constructive (i.e. critical and actionable) input, ” they said.
However, the researchers explained that soliciting feedback may be more beneficial for novices. “People who are novices in their field typically find critical and specific input less motivating,” they observed. “So for novices, it might be better to ask for feedback, rather than advice, to receive less demotivating criticism and more high-level encouragement, ” the authors added.
Seeking advice can be your greatest learning experience
Everyone wants to get better. The important question is, how do you do it more efficiently and effectively?
Changing the language to offer advice opens up a real opportunity to either provide suggestions to improve or even advice on how to find solutions to your weakness. Ask for advice and you get messages about what you need to be changing next week, next month, next year in order to do better.
It takes guts, vulnerability, and the willingness to acknowledge a problem that you aren’t sure how to solve. It can be scary, but good advice can be transformative, especially when it’s coming from someone who’s already been in your shoes and succeeded.
In another study conducted by Alison Wood Brooks and Francesca Gino at the Harvard Business School, the researchers found that asking for advice shows initiative and demonstrates competence. “ Not only is advice-seeking beneficial for the spread of information, but it may also boost perceptions of competence for advice seekers and make advisors feel affirmed,” they concluded.
Asking for advice can also show your seriousness about an issue or pursuing an opportunity, idea, etc. When you want advice, you have a specific goal in mind that can help you get better or improve.
You are seeking specific information instead of everything that didn’t go so well with your presentation, design, strategy or your personal approach. Advice is actionable and more often than not it comes with justification, actual facts or personal experience.
You are getting exactly what you need to be better tomorrow.
“Whereas the past is unchangeable, the future is full of possibilities. So, if you ask someone for advice, they will be more likely to think forward to future opportunities to improve rather than backward to the things you have done, which you can no longer change, ” the researchers said.
To get the best advice, ask a more experienced person — who has the right expertise, experience or knowledge you need. You are more likely to act on the advice if the person offering counsel is more experienced and expresses extreme confidence in the quality of the advice.
To improve your chances of getting what you want from an expert, use a known connection. The person you’re seeking advice from is more likely to make time to talk to you if they are already connected to you directly or indirectly. If you’ve never met the person you want to ask for advice, find out if you have a mutual friend in common.
Tap into your network and consider asking them if they would be willing to reach out on your behalf for an introduction. Advice from the right person at the right time can change your life.
Should you email? Call? Ask in person?
It depends on your relationship with the expert. But no matter how you decide to ask if the person is available, be clear about your intentions. Be concise, but share specifically why you want to talk to them.
You can offer to send your questions in advance to give them an opportunity to prepare and share their best knowledge or experience.
Don’t ask everyone. “Research shows that those whose advice you don’t take may have a worse view of you afterward. They may even see you as less competent or avoid you,” according to Hayley Blunden, a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School and co-author of the study, “The Interpersonal Costs of Ignoring Advice.” Be grateful. Follow up later to let them know how their feedback helped you.
There are a lot of opportunities to learn from our peers, colleagues, bosses, and leaders. Despite its prevalence, feedback focuses too much on evaluating past actions — they fail to provide tangible recommendations for future growth and learning. To improve your skills, it pays to ask for advice instead.