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Asking your boss for advice could be the best way to get ahead at work

Getting ahead in the workplace is something that's very important to most people. And yet it's not something that very many of us receive explicit instruction in. Katie Liljenquist recently highlighted a couple of findings from her research that shows one potent but underexploited method for getting ahead — ask for advice.

Her 2010 paper "Resolving the impression management dilemma: The strategic benefits of soliciting others for advice" shows that asking for advice accomplishes the key goal of signaling warmth and likability without compromising your reputation for competence.

Advice-seekers are seen as warm and humble

People really like people who ask them for advice, perceiving advice-seekers to be warmer, more humble, and more cooperative than non-seekers.

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After all, everyone likes flattery but nobody likes flatterers. Asking for advice is a nice implicit way of complementing a more senior colleague — you wouldn't be asking unless you respected that person's skills and judgment — but it doesn't require you to say or do anything obsequious. It demonstrates humility, but in a way it also demonstrates competence since it will seem awfully clever of you to have had the good sense to ask this particular person for advice since he will naturally think he's a great person to ask.

Advice-seekers are more likely to be promoted

But this isn't just a question of getting the boss to say nice things about you. In Liljenquist's simulated job performance reviews, advice-seekers were significantly more likely to be recommended for promotion than non-seekers.

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Of course, this is just a simulation and not a randomized study of real-world workplaces so it doesn't quite meet a gold standard of research rigor. On the other hand, asking some senior colleagues for advice is a pretty low-cost strategy so why not give it a shot?