Asking for advice doesn’t make you seem incompetent, in fact it’s the opposite.

My Mother-in-Law has a saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” And as much as I disagree with her on some things, this one she has right. You can’t know everything.

But have you ever refrained from asking someone for help for fear of looking stupid, or less-able?

Well, ask away because new research has shown that our fears of appearing less competent in asking for help are completely unfounded. In fact, it’s the opposite. Asking someone else for help makes you look more competent to others.

Harvard’s Business School recently conducted a series of studies, which will soon be published in the Journal Management Science.

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Using a series of five separate studies, researchers aimed to determine the impact of asking for help on other peoples perceptions of us.

One of the studies asked it’s participants to pretend that they were stalled on a problem at work. Some of the participants were instructed to seek the advice of a colleague in the problem solving journey, while others were told that they needed to come up with a solution on their own, without outside influence.

When asked how they thought workmates would feel about them and their approach to the problem solving, respondents noted that in asking for help they felt they would come across as far less competent than they would if they attempted to solve the issue alone.

workplace productivity
Asking for help has the opposite effect as what you think it does. Image: istock

However, another of the series of studies found that our fears of looking incompetent are unfounded. When put it a simulated brain teaser activity, participants who sought the advice of others were perceived to be more competent than those who completed the task by themselves. Therefore in direct conflict with how we view ourselves.

These findings were further supported in an additional study which found that people who reported themselves as being competent, also felt the same of their partners whom they has asked for advice. Researchers concluded that advice asking possessed a circular ego-boost as respondents said that they would seek out the assistance of another person should they experience problem solving issues in the workplace.

And so it goes, if you don’t know what you’re doing, find someone who does.

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