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The conditions for sharing help in your organisation

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The conditions for sharing help in your organisation

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Last week I wrote about the idea of having a giving day in your organisation, where employees give help and advice to their peers.  It was a simple construct aimed at promoting and encouraging the behaviour of sharing knowledge, and perhaps more importantly asking for help.

Whilst there is considerable literature out there on the difficulties many of us have asking for help, especially in cut throat work environments where doing so may be a sign of weakness, there is somewhat less research out there exploring the motivations behind accepting advice.

A new paper aims to fill that void by looking at the role our emotions play in whether we accept advice or not.  The researchers ran a range of experiments where a range of either positive or negative emotions were induced in each participant.  They were then asked to perform some tasks, some of which had been recommended by a peer.

The researchers found that when positive emotion was directed outwards, participants tended to accept advice.  In other words, if you feel positively about the person giving you the advice then you’re more likely to accept it.

That seems sensible enough.  They also found however that when the emotion was directed inwards, negative emotions corresponded more with accepting advice.  So if the emotion made us feel worse about ourselves, we were more likely to take the advice.

These initial experiments made advice taking sound very tactical, in that if you feel the giver is smarter than you, then you’re more likely to accept their advice.  Subsequent experiments aimed to remove the capability of the giver from the equation.

Alas the same results were found.  People were much more willing to accept advice when they felt shame as opposed to pride, and gratitude as opposed to anger.

All of which paints an interesting picture of the kind of workplaces that are conducive to collaboration and knowledge sharing.  As the authors conclude, “people experiencing negative, self-focused emotions such as shame or sadness might be the most likely to follow advice but may also be the least likely to seek advice in the first place.”

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