It’s something that far too many people worry about, and far too few people actually manage to pull off: Making a good first impression. Whether you’re starting a new job in an organization where you don’t know anyone, or even coming on board as a manager, and hope to hit it off with your subordinates, making a great impression can be invaluable when embarking on a new phase in life.
Luckily for us, a pair of researchers from the Harvard Business School have managed to crack the secret to successfully making a positive impression on those around you, and it’s incredibly simple — ask for advice.
That’s it. Merely asking for advice or help from your coworkers, or even friends and family, can leave a lasting, positive impression. As researchers Alison Wood Brooks and Francesca Gino explain, the problem is that most people hate asking for help, and will typically do almost anything to avoid it.
“It is inconsiderate. We do not want to bother others. After all, other folks have their own problems to solve. Also, the person we ask may not have the answer we need anyway,” the researchers write in their report, published in Scientific American. “Our recent research suggests that the instinct to avoid seeking advice is wrong. Though extremely common, fears about appearing incompetent by asking for help or information are sorely misplaced. Here is why: When you ask for advice, people do not think less of you; they think you are smarter.”
The reason that others will think you are smart for seeking their advice is that it’s a simple ego stroke. People tend to to think that they themselves are smart, and that others should naturally seek the advice of a smart person. Essentially, the willingness to approach coworkers, family members, or friends and ask for help leads to encouragement for future exchanges of information, and helps fortify positive, meaningful connections.
In order to reach this conclusion, Brooks and Gino conducted experiments for several years at the University of Pennsylvania that involved hundreds of students. At the core of the experiments were rather simple exercises to determine whether test-takers would be willing to seek the advice of others who had an information advantage, and if they did, how that advice solicitation reflected in the minds of those being asked.
In other words, the experiments tried to see how people felt after being asked for their advice. As we know, the findings suggest that those who were being asked felt flattered, and felt an increased sense of respect for those asking.
The trick, then, is to overcome our own insecurities and reluctance concerning actually asking for help — whether it’s because we feel it makes us look inferior, stupid, or otherwise — and seek out other people’s input. There is little downside as well, as it was found that even asking for help with very easy tasks did not reflect negatively on those asking.
“Asking for advice is not nearly as risky an endeavor as we tend to think,” the researchers conclude.
In a practical sense, particularly in the workplace, this relatively simple strategy of asking for input can have many tactical advantages. For new employees, seeking advice and direction from coworkers can not only help learn the inner-workings of both the job functions and office itself, but lead to trust-building and help kindle new, positive relationships. For established employees as well, we know now that asking new team members for their input and ideas regarding new strategies or approaches can lead to similar outcomes.
Especially from a managerial perspective, the findings that Brooks and Gino have published can probably lead to some new strategies for effectively communicating with and assimilating new employees into the fold. For instance, imagine the ego stroke that a new employee could gain by having the boss simply ask for their advice, or even their specific take on an issue or problem? There’s a lot to be gained, and not only will subordinates feel welcomed, but valued and respected.
Making a good impression has long been one of the main social goals for many people, but it turns out that an easy way to pull it off is incredibly simple. Just remember not to be shy about asking for help, as it pays off in more ways than one.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger