How to Look Smart When Seeking Advice

Don’t worry. You won’t look stupid if you seek advice.

There’s wisdom in not-knowing.

Ancient wisdom:

Research agrees with ancient wisdom. Advice-seeking is smart. And it makes you look smart when done skillfully.

  • “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Shakespeare
  •  “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Socrates
  • “The way of a fool is right in his own opinion, but the one who listens to advice is wise.” Jewish Proverb

Hard-headed fools press forward and suffer for it.

Francesco Gino says we’re wrong-headed about the dangers of advice-seeking. Don’t be afraid people will think you’re stupid.

How to look smart:

Alison Wood Brooks says, “We actually view people who seek our advice as much more competent than people who forego the opportunity to seek advice.”

“People feel good when you seek their advice. They think, ‘They’re asking for my advice because they think I’m smart and I know the answer, and I think they’re smart because I’m actually going to tell them things that will be useful and help them do the task better.’”

How to seek advice brilliantly:

Always explain desired outcomes. Never ask, “What do you think I should do,” before you’ve fully described what you’re trying to accomplish.

Clarity emerges after you choose a target.

7 questions for brilliant advice-seekers:

  1. What do you suggest I do before I make this decision?
  2. What problems do you see with this course of action? Opportunities?
  3. If you were facing this challenge, what would you do?
  4. Who might be able to give me advice about this situation?
  5. What’s important in this situation?
  6. What’s the best outcome of this challenge, from your point of view?
  7. What option(s) do you see?

Tip: Use the plural when seeking advice to prevent obligation.

What’s the wrong way to seek advice?

What suggestions might you add for successful advice-seeking?

Bonus material:

Asking Advice Makes a Good Impression – Scientific American

5 Questions you Have to Ask Before Asking for Advice – Psychology Today

The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice – HBR Jan-Feb 2015

I’m Successful Because I’ve Been Wrong – Leadership Freak