Advising For Status

It seems to me that people tend to ask their associates for advice too little, at least relative to the goal of improving their decisions. One key explanation: associates get mad when we don’t follow their advice:

We study the effect of participative decision making in an experimental principal agent game, where the principal can consult the agent’s preferred option regarding the task to be undertaken in the final stage of the game. We show that consulting the agent was beneficial to principals as long as they followed the agent’s choice. Ignoring the agent’s choice was detrimental to the principal as it engendered negative emotions and low levels of transfers. Nevertheless, the majority of principals were reluctant to change their mind and adopt the agent’s proposal. Our results suggest that the ability to change one’s own mind is an important dimension of managerial success. (more; HT Dan Houser)

Giving advice seems to confer status, at least if the advice is followed. Which helps explain why so much unwanted advice is offered.

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  • Roland

    Giving advice seems to confer status, at least if the advice is followed. Which helps explain why so much unwanted advice is offered.

    Yep! That’s a reason why nowadays I’m very reluctant to give advice. Giving advice is a bid for status recognition and in a lot of cases will cause negative emotions from the beginning (“Who does this guy think he is?”). When I receive unsolicited advice often this is the feeling that comes up in myself, so I don’t blame anyone.

    So unfortunately even if the advice is correct, socially it is often better to keep quiet.

  • Scott H.

    Our results suggest that the ability to change one’s own mind is an important dimension of managerial success.

    If that is the case then the people that are managing the United States of America are in big, big trouble.

  • On the reverse side, Atul Gawande in the New Yorker last week writes about the difference between teaching (one-time learning) and coaching (continuous improvement), and the reluctance he felt as a surgeon to ask for coaching on how to improve his technique.

  • What this means is that there is a very strong compulsion to tell people what they want to hear, to advise them to act in the ways that they want to act. That advisors gain status when they tell people what they want to hear and lose status when they don’t.

    The higher the status of the advisee, the greater this tendency is going to be. So there really is an echo chamber. Advice that the high status advisees want to hear is accepted and the yes-men-sycophants who gave that advice increase in status and dissenting voices are moved down and eventually out.

  • Psychohistorian

    You might consider alternatives to people being upset that they didn’t get a status boost from having their advice followed.

    Having one’s advice not be followed is insulting. It doesn’t really seem to count as a status hit because it’s not much of a public event, but I think a lot of people find it disrespectful because they feel ignored. This could plausibly be construed as status, but I don’t really think it’s what you’re getting at.

    Definitely different is the fact that a failure to follow advice will tend to lower your opinion of the other person’s intellect/competence. If you ask me what you should do, and I tell you to do X, then it probably seems to me that a reasonable person would do X if they were aware of it. If you fail to do X, given that you’re aware of it, you must not be a very reasonable person. This problem is even worse if you fail to do X and you obtain bad results; then you look really stupid. This is rather different than your explanation.

    In short I don’t think this fits as neatly into status-seeking as you would like it to.

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  • Nikki

    It’s also a indication of status not to give advice. Real professionals do not give advice unless directly asked and it is their field of expertise, perhaps due in part to the increase in lawsuits when professionals advice and the outcome is poor, and also to give the impression that they never speak about things they don’t know about, increasing their credibility when they do speak. Where as lay people tend to make stuff up and give advice on anything they feel like appearing knowlegeable about.

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  • Sean

    Thank you for posting this. I will be much more careful about giving, and soliciting, advice.