Friday, December 28, 2012

Anxiety and Advice

Wharton Professor Maurice Schweitzer, PhD student Alison Wood Brooks, and Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino have examined the impact that anxiety has on a person's receptiveness to advice from others.    The scholars explain that, ""In almost every domain, individuals discount the advice they receive. In contrast to this finding, we identify an important aspect of a decision-maker's internal state that causes individuals to be very receptive to advice: anxiety."    Ok, now here comes the really bad news.  Brooks explains that, "People in an anxious state were really bad at differentiating between good and bad advice."  

Why might that be the case?   They argue that people who exhibit high anxiety may be feeling a lack of confidence at that time.  Therefore, they look to others to help them figure out what to do in a particular situation.  The desire to resolve the anxiety may make it difficult for individuals to distinguish between helpful and harmful advice.  Individuals may move hastily to resolve the anxiety by making a decision and moving forward, even if they are basing that decision on advice that may not be very good.  

The scholars recommend that people step back and reflect a bit before making decisions in an anxious state.  I think that I would go a bit further though. I would argue that we could all benefit by taking more care in discerning what advice to take, from whom, and in what situations.   Getting advice from multiple parties, hopefully with diverse perspectives, can be very helpful.  Building a trusting relationship with an "experienced confidante" can be beneficial as well.   Thinking carefully about whether someone's expertise actually applies to your situation can be very important.  We sometimes rely on others for advice because they are very smart and successful.  However, that can get us in trouble if that person's experience is not very applicable to our situation. 

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