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For advice to be accepted, the recipient needs to request it

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Receiving advice at work is something that we do tend to welcome, but only when we actively seek it out.  New research1 from Cambridge’s Judge Business School finds that no matter how well-intentioned, unsolicited advice does not fall on such receptive ground.

The study finds that when we solicit advice, we tend to ascribe personal motives to the people providing it.  This in turn tends to mean that we assume those offering unsolicited advice have ulterior motives.

Unwanted advice

The study, which involved around 900 workers, found that unsolicited advice was not favorably looked on even when offered by people we’re friendly with, or indeed when offered by people with high status in their social network.  In other words, if you’re offering unwanted advice, it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s not going to be well received.

“We were surprised to find that no variable we tested significantly reduced the negative attributions people associate with unsolicited advice,” the researchers say. “The variables we tested included whether the advice-giver and recipient were part of the same social group, whether the advice-giver gives advice to many others at work, and how the advice-giver brokers advice between disconnected others at work. These results show that distrust of unsolicited advice is remarkably robust, and that carries implications for the workplace and beyond.”

The researchers wanted to question the traditional notion that giving advice is something we don’t tend to do enough of in the workplace, not least because we’re so uneasy about actually asking for it.  It seems that blundering ahead with unsolicited advice is not the answer.

“When employees receive solicited advice, the advisor’s reason for providing advice is clear – the recipient asked for it,” the authors explain. “In contrast, when employees receive unsolicited advice, the advisor’s motivation is more ambiguous, prompting recipients to think about why the advisor offered advice.”

While logically, sharing advice would be something that should be beneficial in the workplace as it aids the flow of knowledge throughout the organization, the reality is that it might not always be welcomed or appreciated.

“Organisational research has emphasized the benefits of advice sharing, which implies that unsolicited advice will be beneficial,” the researchers conclude. “Yet, it appears that Aesop was prescient in his remarks about how people react to unsolicited advice. Offering advice without being asked for it diminishes its value, even when it comes from close relations. Although our findings present a challenge to common views of advice as an informational resource, they echo the words of the fabled Greek storyteller – employees distrust unsolicited advice.”

Article source: For Advice To Be Accepted, The Recipient Needs To Request It.

Header image source: Amy Hirschi on Unsplash.


  1. Landis, B., Fisher, C. M., & Menges, J. I. (2021). How employees react to unsolicited and solicited advice in the workplace: Implications for using advice, learning, and performance. Journal of Applied Psychology.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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