Study: Coworkers who give you advice are doing it to gain power

When someone sidles up to you at lunch, dispensing advice on how to deal with so-and-so, recognize that they may not be doing this out of the goodness of their heart. A new study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that our coworkers’ intentions are not always altruistic —they can be driven by a thirst for power.

“People with a high tendency to seek power are more likely to give advice than those with a low tendency,” the researchers wrote. “The desire for power not only prompts engagement in influence in the form of advice giving, but further that those behaviors enhance feelings of power.”

Power-hungry people are likely to be the advice givers in your office

Having someone follow our advice can go to our power-hungry heads. It shows that we can exert influence in our office. When someone follows our lead, it signals to others that we are leaders with thoughts worth knowing. In a series of experiments on college students, Michael Schaerer and his fellow researchers found that students who had ambitions of power were the most likely to be the ones doling out advice. In one experiment, students who said they “would like to have more control” and “more power” were more likely to give extensive, detailed advice to a fictional college student than those who were not power-seeking.

We do not even have to be experts on what we are guiding someone about to get a power boost. “Advice giving is a politically motivated and subtle pathway to power,” the researchers found. “Regardless of whether the advice is solicited or unsolicited, from the adviser’s perspective, the mere act of giving advice is sufficient to instill them with a sense of power.”

But one word of caution to all you power-hungry advice givers: the high of giving advice comes crashing down when your wisdom is not followed. Students were deflated when advice was not followed because it signaled their lack of influence.

“When the adviser becomes aware that his or her advice was not followed, this awareness provides evidence of a failure to effectively influence the advisee, which is likely to lead to a sense of rejection and ineffective influence, thereby diminishing the effect of advice giving on the adviser’s sense of power,” the researchers wrote.