Why Asking for Advice Inspires Collaborative Communication

Why Asking for Advice Inspires Collaborative Communication  

Think back to the last time you asked for feedback. Maybe you prepared a big presentation for your boss and showed it to a colleague first. Did they provide general feedback, such as “It looks great!” or actionable ideas that led to a better outcome? More than likely, it was the former.  

In a Harvard Business School study, researchers asked 194 full-time U.S. employees to give feedback or advice on a colleague’s performance on a recent work task. Those who were asked to give feedback gave less analytical and actionable input. For example, one person wrote, “They gave a very good performance without any complaints related to his work.” Others were asked to give advice — and the input was very different, including: “In the future, I suggest checking in with our executive officers more frequently. During the event, please walk around, and be present to make sure people see you.” 

Another study by Harvard found that “advice” led to 34 percent more areas of improvement and 56 percent more ways to improve than “feedback.” 

Why is the advice more specific and actionable than the feedback?  

We often treat feedback as an assessment of the information that is already there. It puts us in the mindset of an evaluator, grading what’s in front of us as “pass” or “fail.” Advice, on the other hand, opens our minds to future possibilities, based on our own experiences. What’s missing that could make this better?   
When we ask for “advice” versus “feedback,” it also leads to more collaborative communication. In this form of communication, every employees’ needs and input matter equally. Everyone feels seen, valued and heard.  

It’s the difference between “Tell me what you think about what I’ve already done” and “How do you think we could make this better, based on your experience?” People are more invested in the outcome when invited to be part of the process versus looking back at something someone else did and judging it at face value.  

How can you inspire collaborative communication like this in your own workplace?  

  1. Seek and give advice, not just feedback. Generally speaking, advice is more effective than feedback. However, there are certain scenarios where “feedback” is appropriate. For example, if a new employee has just been onboarded, they might feel more motivated by feedback that comes in the form of high-level encouragement versus specific criticism they aren’t sure what to do with yet. As they gain experience, advice can then be utilized to help them grow, too.  
  1. Bring people in from the beginning, not after the fact. If you know you have a presentation coming up, ask for advice from a trusted colleague before you start. Find a peer who has done something similar in the past or who has an expertise on the subject matter. Schedule some time on your calendars to meet, share your goals with them in advance, invite them to share their perspective, and then listen. Afterward, brainstorm ideas together for how you might approach the project. It’s more efficient to let their insight shape your approach than it would be to reengineer your work to reflect their perspective after the fact.   
  1. Focus on the what, not the how. Managers should clearly communicate what they want to accomplish, but not how to do it. There are a million different ways to achieve a goal. If managers are laying out every step employees should take to get there, they’re inadvertently telling employees they don’t trust them to work together and find their own solution. People do their best work when given the freedom to collaborate and pave their own path.  
  1. Collaborate on visionary ideas, not just tactical work. You might already be giving and asking for advice on specific projects or initiatives. But are you and the leaders at your company seeking that same level of input on bigger-picture strategies, like the future of the company? Inviting people to be part of the greater conversation about their team’s future inspires collaborative communication at the highest level. Ask your team what makes them feel proud of the work they do, what they’d like to see the team accomplish together, and what services or products they see a need for that aren’t currently being offered. You might also ask them to identify the roadblocks that are standing in the way of making that vision possible — and how you might work together to clear them.  
  1. Don’t forget about remote employees. You might have some employees who work in office and others that work from home. This adds another layer to collaborative communication, as you’ll need to find ways to include them in the conversation as well. By now, most of us are already using Zoom to connect with coworkers. Some other online collaboration tools for remote workers include Slack (team communication), Asana or Workamajig (team-based work management), Google Drive (file management) and World Time Buddy (time converter for global teams).   

Collaborative communication empowers people to help steer the ship, not just passively sit on board. These strategies will help your employees become more engaged in their work — and passionate about the company they’re partnering with to do it.