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You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how to get your boss to like you.
Maybe you’ll stay at the office all night so you can submit a project early tomorrow, or maybe you’ll bone up on the history of their favorite sports team so you have something to casually chat about.
Alternatively, you could stay sane and change a single word in your interactions with them. Instead of asking for their opinion on your ideas, ask for their advice.
That tip comes from Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, the CEO and president of Influence at Work, and the author of the new book “Pre-suasion.”
In the book, Cialdini cites a 2011 study that looked at what happens when you solicit someone’s advice, opinion, or expectations. In one experiment included in the study, researchers had participants read about a new (fictional) restaurant concept and then provide either their advice, opinion, or expectations about the restaurants.
Sure enough, when researchers asked participants how likely they were to try one of the restaurants, those who’d given their advice were most willing to eat there. That’s likely because the advice-givers felt closer to the organization than the other participants; they had to temporarily adopt the organization’s perspective in order to give an answer.
Cialdini says the same effect plays out between managers and their employees in professional settings. When he visited the Business Insider office in September, he told us:
“When you ask for someone’s opinion, here’s what that person does: Psychologically they take a half step back from you. They separate and they go into themselves to find an answer.
Here’s what I’m going to recommend that you say instead. Can you give me your – not opinion – can you give me your advice on this?
Here’s what the research shows. Asking for advice causes them to take a half step towards you psychologically, to put themselves in a partnership, collaborative, cooperative state of mind. And the research shows they then become more supportive of your plan or idea before they experience it.”
These insights fit nicely with other research suggesting that when you ask someone for their advice, they think you’re more competent than when you don’t seek their advice. That’s possibly because you make them feel smart and knowledgeable, so they feel good about you in turn.
Of course, there’s probably a downside to asking for advice on everything: “Can you give me advice on writing this email to my mom?” But in general, if you’re planning to ask your boss what they think about a project you’ve just submitted or an idea you have for an upcoming project, try to get them on your side.
As Cialdini put it when I met him at the Psychological Science Convention in May, when you ask for your boss’s advice, you get an “accomplice” as opposed to an evaluator.
“And what better accomplice to have,” he added, “than a boss?”