Win Over an Opponent by Asking for Advice
What do an inflated surgical bill, a fuming real-estate developer, and a dreaded performance appraisal have in common? All can be mitigated with one simple gesture: a request for advice.
We seek advice on a daily basis, on everything from who grills the best burger in town to how to handle a sticky situation with a coworker. However, many people don’t fully appreciate how powerful requesting guidance can be. Soliciting advice will arm you with information you didn’t have before, but there are other benefits you may not have considered:
1. Advisors will like you more: Arthur Helps sagely observed, “We all admire the wisdom of people who come to us for advice.” Being asked for advice is inherently flattering because it’s an implicit endorsement of our opinions, values, and expertise. Furthermore, it works equally well up and down the hierarchy — subordinates are delighted and empowered by requests for their insights, and superiors appreciate the deference to their authority and experience. James Pennebaker’s research shows that if you want your peers to like you, ask them questions and let them experience the “joy of talking.” This is especially important because research shows that increasing your likability will do more for your career than slightly increasing competence.
One of us (Katie) recently put this to the test while dealing with a real estate transaction. After several phone calls to indifferent or discouraging county officials, Katie visited the Planning and Zoning office in person. Rather than pester the official with what would and wouldn’t be permissible, Katie asked for her advice on how she would handle the constraints. The official provided a bounty of insider information and guidance that Katie never would’ve obtained on her own. When Katie thanked the official for her invaluable insights, the official confessed that she was burnt out by constantly impeding people’s aspirations and dreams with zoning roadblocks. Katie’s humble request for the official’s expertise was revitalizing, and she in turn helped Katie deftly navigate what otherwise would’ve been a very difficult situation.
2. Advisors are able to see things from your perspective. Think about the last time someone came to you for advice. Most likely, you engaged in an instinctive mental exercise: you tried to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine the world through their eyes. Our research has identified the extensive benefits of perspective-taking — it facilitates understanding and increases the odds of finding creative agreements in negotiations.
In another study, we simulated a performance appraisal and found that underperforming employees who asked for advice were able turn their bosses into better perspective-takers. This shifted the tone of a hostile performance appraisal towards cooperation and nearly doubled their chances of being recommended for promotion (31% vs 58%)!
3. Advisors become a champion for your cause: A third benefit of soliciting adversaries for advice is that they become your champions. When someone offers you advice, it represents an investment of his time and energy. Your request empowers your advisor to make good on their recommendations and become an advocate for your cause.
One of our favorite illustrations of this comes from one of our MBA students, Clara, who received a shocking $18,000 bill for a surgery that was performed at an out-of-network surgical center (even though the surgeon himself was classified as in-network). Detailing her strategy for negotiating the bill, Clara wrote, “I called Fran (the nurse). Deep down, I really believed this was her fault. But instead of approaching it that way, I asked for her counsel and guidance with the mess. Knowing her personality (interested in having control over her domain and running the show), I enlisted her to help me with the personnel at the Surgery Center. This made her feel important and she took the ball from there.” Thanks to the championing efforts of the nurse, Clara was able to negotiate not just a reduction of her bill, but a complete waiver!
This approach captured all three benefits of seeking advice: First, the nurse was flattered to have her authority acknowledged, quickly transforming the conversation from an argument to be won to a problem to be solved. Second, she was able to see Clara’s perspective and became sympathetic to her predicament. Finally, she felt empowered and committed to facilitating a resolution.
This same approach works in job negotiations. When one of us — Adam — negotiated his first professorship, he asked for advice from one of the professors he’d met during the interview. The professor immediately shared vital information (the university’s reservation price on salary!) and worked back channels with the dean to give Adam more research resources. The professor become such an advocate that he even adjusted his own teaching schedule to accommodate Adam’s desired teaching schedule.
Whether it’s a high-stakes monetary negotiation or winning support for a proposal, the simple gesture of soliciting advice can make you more likeable, encourage your counterpart to see your perspective, and rally commitment. The beauty of this approach is that it costs so little. So as you plan your next negotiation, consider how a targeted request for advice could turn an adversary into an advocate.
Originally published at www.hbrascend.in.