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Here’s how to get the best advice at work
New research suggests that we should think twice before asking for input from a very wide range of people.
Asking for advice at work is an essential way to learn, to course correct, and to improve.
Colleagues with different expertise across your company can provide insight into their career paths if you're considering a move, thoughts on workplace best practices if you're new to a position, or advice on how to handle specific, often stressful, situations. People often think that asking several people for advice leads to the best results — after all, the more diversity in perspective, the more information we can consider. However, new research suggests that we should think twice before asking for input from a very wide range of people.
New research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes explains that asking many people for advice can actually trigger negative reactions. "Given how commonly most of us are told to seek second and third opinions, we expected advisors to rate those pursuing this strategy as more competent. But we found the opposite. People who were in a group of several advisors not only rated the advice-seeker as less competent, but also indicated that they felt more socially distant to them later and were less interested in advising them in the future," Hayley Blunden, a Ph.D student at Harvard Business School and a co-author of the study, and her colleagues wrote for Harvard Business Review.
The researchers hypothesized that these reactions stemmed from the advisers' realization that their advice might not be followed; the larger number of people who were consulted for advice, the lower probability that an adviser's advice would be followed, resulting in a sense of rejection because individuals "tend to think highly of themselves and their opinions and gain status when their advice is taken," the researchers explained. In a subsequent study, the researchers confirmed their hypothesis — advisers whose suggestions were ignored became more offended and "were likely to denigrate and sever their relationship with the seekers," the researchers wrote.
Such findings might confuse those of us in need of advice. Should we only consult one person when we need guidance? What if that person's advice doesn't line up with goals or values? While seeking the "wisdom of crowds" — as the researchers put it — could come with some negative side effects, it can also be done in a way that promotes an environment of candor, understanding, and growth. After all, soliciting multiple opinions is still valuable.
Be direct and transparent about your goals
First, the study suggests that advice seekers should be more transparent about their intentions when asking a group of people for ideas and suggestions. So whether you are looking for general information about next steps in your career or are curious about a specific concept you're not familiar with, let people know what kind of information you are after and why you are asking in the first place.
Express gratitude before and after seeking advice
Gratitude has been shown to promote honesty, productivity, and overall well-being in the workplace, and can be used as a tool to ease any interaction, including asking for advice. If a co-worker agrees to meet for coffee and share a lot of advice with you, emphasize how much you appreciate their time. After your conversation, send a follow-up email, deliver a handwritten thank you note, or drop by their desk to reaffirm your gratitude.
Ask the right kinds of questions
To reap the most reward from any advice that a co-worker gives you, be sure to ask questions that show your interest and keep the conversation flowing. Follow-up questions can make conversations less superficial, and research shows that people are more willing to reveal sensitive or personal information when the toughest questions are asked at the beginning of the conversation. Active listening should also be a key component of your conversation, as it will show your advice-giver that you are engaged and care about what is being discussed.
Use compassionate directness in your approach
If you decide not to follow someone's advice, there is no better way to inform them than with compassionate directness. As Thrive founder and CEO Arianna Huffington puts it, compassionate directness means "empowering employees to speak up, give feedback, disagree, and surface problems, pain points and constructive criticism… immediately, continuously, and with clarity" in a way that is empathetic and understanding. Take a moment to talk with your colleague about why you decided to pursue another path, or rely on other information. Be straightforward in your conversation, but be sure to express the ways in which their advice was helpful.
Asking for advice — especially from a large group of people with conflicting opinions — can feel like you're treading water. The good news, though, is that you can navigate these situations with transparency, gratitude, and compassionate directness. This way, you can garner the information you need, while maintaining good relationships in the workplace and ensuring everyone feels valued.
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While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.