Advice Shows Status

When we give and seek advice, we think and talk as if we mainly just want to exchange useful information on the topic at hand. But seeking someone’s advice shows them respect, especially if that advice is followed. And in fact, a lot of our advice giving and taking behavior can be better understand in such status terms:

When making decisions together, we tend to give everyone an equal chance to voice their opinion. To make the best decisions, however, each opinion must be scaled according to its reliability. Using behavioral experiments and computational modelling, we tested (in Denmark, Iran, and China) the extent to which people follow this latter, normative strategy. We found that people show a strong equality bias: they weight each other’s opinion equally regardless of differences in their reliability, even when this strategy was at odds with explicit feedback or monetary incentives. (more)

Individuals in powerful positions are the worst offenders. According to one experimental study, they feel competitive when they receive advice from experts, which inflates their confidence and leads them to dismiss what the experts are telling them. High-power participants in the study ignored almost two-thirds of the advice they received. Other participants (the control and low-power groups) ignored advice about half as often. … Research shows that they value advice more if it comes from a confident source, even though confidence doesn’t signal validity. Conversely, seekers tend to assume that advice is off-base when it veers from the norm or comes from people with whom they’ve had frequent discord. (Experimental studies show that neither indicates poor quality.) Seekers also don’t embrace advice when advisers disagree among themselves. And they fail to compensate sufficiently for distorted advice that stems from conflicts of interest, even when their advisers have acknowledged the conflicts and the potential for self-serving motives. … Though many people give unsolicited advice, it’s usually considered intrusive and seldom followed. Another way advisers overstep is to chime in when they’re not qualified to do so. … many advisers take offense when their guidance isn’t accepted wholesale, curtailing further discussion. (more)

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , ,
Trackback URL:
  • brendan_r

    Anyone with an Italian mother (or in-law) knows all about the function of (unsolicited, unqualified) incessant advice.

  • https://dndebattbetyg.wordpress.com/ Stefan Schubert

    Firstly, I think the first paper overstates its conclusions. The first sentence says:

    “When making decisions together, we tend to give everyone an equal chance to voice their opinion.”

    This implies that we do this in any group. But the experiments only concerned *pairs* where the participants were supposed to give a weight to their partner’s opinion based on their estimates of their reliability. This is quite unlike groups of, e.g. thousands of people. It is not implausible to think that we weigh people’s opinions differently in such scenarios. I think that the authors might be on to something, but I don’t think that their experiments show quite what the authors claim they do.

    Secondly, the title of that paper is “Equality bias impairs collective decision-making across cultures”. I guess lots of people conclude from this that decision-making where people with different competence levels are involced should become less egalitarian, less democratic. There are also experiments pointing in the opposite direction, however. A paper in *Science* from 2012 claims to show that in deliberating groups, “collective intelligence” is correlated with “the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking” (and also with “the average social sensitivity of group members, and the proportion of females in the group”).

    http://www.chabris.com/Woolley2010a.pdf

    The problem of how to optimize group decision making is obviously complex and any solution is going to have to be nuanced. Naturally, more competent people should have more of a say, in one way or another. I worry, though, that people reading that equality bias impairs collective decision-making across cultures, take that as justification for putting people they believe to be less competent down in group discussions. That is not only unsympathetic, but will, if the Science paper is right, actually lead to worse decisions.

    • brendan_r

      There’s no contradiction between the Science paper (A) and this one (B). A shows that if you’ve gotta deal with incompetents it’s best to make them feel valued; they’ll probably be less stubborn then. B shows simply that, ultimately, we’d be better off following their plans less than we do.

      Good leaders do these things all the time. Also, recognizing B, they’ll sometimes prefer a less skilled more cooperative partner over a stubborn one.

      “I worry, though, that people reading that equality bias impairs collective decision-making across cultures, take that as justification for putting people they believe to be less competent down in group discussions.”

      Ha, no one who manages people cares what academics have to say about group dynamics (except maybe for rationalization purposes). Sam Walton didn’t need a social psych degree to grok how to run a meeting or motivate people.

      • https://dndebattbetyg.wordpress.com/ Stefan Schubert

        It is true that if you go down to a more fine-grained level, the results seem to be compatible with each other. But on a more general level, A favours egalitarian decision-making, B elitist/inegalitarian decision-making. This shows, of course, that it’s important to go down to that fine-grained level, but my point is that people who just read the headlines won’t do that.

        “Ha, no one who manages people cares what academics have to say about group dynamics (except maybe for rationalization purposes). Sam Walton didn’t need a social psych degree to grok how to run a meeting or motivate people.”

        “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

        – Keynes

      • brendan_r

        But these results aren’t fine grained at all compared to reality! And they’re also trivial.

        Just this past week on a flag football team I run I had to figure out how to cope with certain new fairly talented players who are bad for chemistry because they’re, a) not smart, b) arrogant, and c) always trying to switch our defensive schemes mid-game, sometimes with out consulting anybody else! (Anarchy is always a problem in these sorts of leagues because there is no official coach figure.)

        You don’t need to consult the literature to know that, in this context, a) you’ve gotta find a way prevent dumb ideas from influencing the team, and b) gladhanding the morons works better than demeaning them.

        But there are an infinite variety of real world contexts, and what works will vary between them in far more ways than any study can capture.

        I see zero evidence that having an extensive knowledge of any literature has anything to do w/ managing groups well. Rather it is some combo of IQ, charisma, objectivity, and real world experience.

        That’s because we’ve got good native mental modules for doing these sorts of things. And their existence makes it much less likely an academic can spread delusions here than in something like macroeconomics, which Keynes refers to.

  • JW Ogden

    Research shows that they value advice more if it comes from a confident source, even though confidence doesn’t signal validity.

    The above seems true and it always surprises me when I see it. It has been my observation that the best source of information are those who hedge a lot showing a lack of confidence. Like to me real scientists never give a yes or no on an issue even if their is little doubt while non-scientists give yes and no with great confidence.

  • Anonymous

    Unsollicited advice, compliments, and basically all weapons in analog communication, work because of the huge plausible deniability. The main problem is that there is no reliable way to diffuse the threat which isn’t also a retaliation against the aggressor. We’re usually saved by inflation/exponential decay (e.g. positive events in the common goal push away the memory of the attack), not resolution.

  • Ronfar

    Putt’s Laws Of Advice:

    First Law of Advice: The correct advice to give is the advice that is desired.

    Second Law: The desired advice is revealed by the structure of the
    hierarchy, not by the structure of technology

    http://www.toppindavis.com/bob/putt/putt6.htm