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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Stupid Easy Way to Make People Think You’re Smarter

colleagues speaking about a project

I’ll admit it: Asking for help makes me uncomfortable. The last time I worked on a design project for a client, there was some point where I wanted to remove white edges from an image—something I usually do by hand with the eraser tool. It’s time consuming and never perfect, but it had worked for me in the past. Halfway through, a peer walked up, saw what I was doing, and showed me how to achieve my goal with one step. Had I simply asked around, I probably wouldn’t have wasted so much time taking the long route. But I was worried that, by needing help, I would look like I didn’t know what I was doing.

Sound familiar? If you consider yourself a hardworking professional, then you probably have a hard time asking for advice, too. What do you do when you stumble across something you don’t know? I’m willing to bet you’re the type who’d rather spend 15 minutes with Google figuring it out than five asking around the office and admitting it’s not in your skill set yet.

There’s no shame in that, of course. You’re not alone. Asking questions, for many of us, makes us feel vulnerable.

According to Francesco Gino, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, this doesn’t have to be the case. “We have the wrong mindset when thinking about asking for advice,” says Gino. “We probably will experience this idea of being stuck or having a problem and feeling like if I’m going to go to a colleague or to my boss and ask for advice, he or she is going to think I’m stupid. And so because of that belief, we just don’t ask.”

When it comes to communication, people often hesitate to seek advice and ask questions at work. In a recent piece in Harvard Business Review, Gino and her colleague Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, discuss how being frank about needing help is exactly what will make you appear smarter.

“We actually view people who seek our advice as much more competent than people who forego the opportunity to seek advice,” Gino shares. “This is because being asked for advice is flattering, it feels good. 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.”

So next time you’re stuck on a complex problem, give asking a co-worker or your supervisor for help a try. Not only will it be a quicker solution to get other perspective and experiences on board, but people will think you’re smarter, too.