two businessmen deciding what to do two businessmen deciding what to do Asking for advice changes your relationship with the person you're asking. (Photo: T.Dallas / Shutterstock)

Why you should ask for advice, not opinions

One question will pull people toward you, while the other will push them away.

I wrote a screenplay in college. Concerned that it might be a pile of garbage, I asked my talented writer friend to take a look.

"So what did you think?" I said later. As it turns out, it was the wrong question. According to modern behavioral science theory, I shouldn't have asked for his opinion. I should have asked for his advice.

People are more likely to work with you if you ask them for advice rather than opinions, explained University of Kentucky finance professor Wendy Liu and Northwestern University marketing professor David Gal in a study. The scientists told participants about new organizations, like eco-friendly gyms, premature baby charities and restaurants. They asked some participants for advice about these organizations and some for opinions. Participants who gave advice were much more likely to actually donate to the charity or try out the restaurant afterward.

women friends Trust-based friendships can lead to big payoffs. (Photo: Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock)

How does all this work? It has to do with the difference between friendly relationships and business relationships. Israeli economist Dan Ariely has found that people have very different rules for dealing with friends and businesses. For instance, if you get a meal at a restaurant, you're expected to pay for it. If your mother-in-law invites you to dinner, you'd better not try to pay for it.

That's because, as family, you and your mother-in-law aren't strangers swapping money and food. You're part of each other, and you treat each other a little like extensions of yourselves.

"Research shows that changing the ... situation from a communal relationship to an economic exchange can have a significant impact on subsequent behavior," wrote the scientists.

When I asked my friend for his opinion, I was basically telling him to see my screenplay as an independent observer would, turning him into a stranger. If I had asked for his advice, he would have put himself in my shoes, thinking of ways I could make the screenplay better. This would have helped him see the world from my perspective and brought him closer to me, making it more likely that he'd both really want to help me make my screenplay better, rather than just judge it, and help me out in the future.

This all sounds incredibly Machiavellian, and I don't want to actually manipulate my friends. But in a way, it's just a scientific breakdown of what people do naturally. They care for people they're close with. The scientists who ran the experiment even used a Venn diagram to chart how close participants felt to the organizations they were talking about (they called it a pretty metaphysical-sounding "Inclusion of Other in Self" scale).

The OIS scale measures how close you feel to someone else. The OIS scale measures how close you feel to someone else. (Photo: Haverford.edu)

The researchers argued that giving advice is "blurring the line" between giver and receiver.

"Our research is the first to examine the effect of advice giving on the advice giver," explained the scientists.

So next time you show your friend a screenplay or explain a new marketing strategy to your boss, don't ask for their opinion. Ask for their advice.

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