Giving Advice Might Be Better Than Receiving It

You find yourself in a situation where you’re struggling. You don’t know what to do. Your confidence is starting to flag. Is it time to seek out some advice from other people?

Actually, it might be time for you to give advice. In a new paper titled Dear Abby: Should I Give Advice or Receive It?, researchers from University of Pennsylvania and University of Chicago find that sharing advice with others can be a better motivator than receiving advice from experts.

This runs counter to what most people predict would be the case. The authors of the study found that people generally expect to be more motivated by receiving advice than giving it – but that, in reality, they get more fired up when they’re the ones sharing words of wisdom.

The motivational power of giving advice appears to hold across a variety of settings. In their study, the researchers surveyed people who were struggling with saving money, losing weight, finding jobs, and reigning in their tempers. In each case, people tended to be more energized by giving advice to others on these topics than by receiving advice from experts.

Children, too, can benefit from sharing advice. The study found that when middle-school students gave motivational advice to younger students, they worked more on homework over the following month than when they received motivational advice from their teachers.

So why does giving advice motivate people more than they expect? One reason seems to be that people don’t realize how much of a confidence boost sharing advice will give them. The researchers found that people tended to underestimate how much giving advice would motivate them to the extent that they underestimated how much it would raise their confidence.

As the authors of the study point out, confidence is a key component of motivation. In their paper, they wrote that “confidence and action increase in lockstep when it comes to motivated behavior.”

None of this is to say that seeking out advice from others is a waste of time. There are plenty of situations where it really is helpful to get someone else’s perspective, or where you simply don’t have all the information you need and you have to seek it out from others.

But if the basic problem you’re facing is motivation, it’s worth reflecting on lessons you’ve learned and relaying those lessons to others. That’s my advice, anyway.