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To Climb the Business Ladder, Quit Asking for Advice — Start Giving It

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There is no shortage of advice out there for those looking to succeed in the workplace. Throughout your career, you’ll hear every piece of wisdom out there from “find a mentor ” to “ask lots of questions.” But what if more knowledge isn’t necessarily what you need to climb the corporate ladder?

As it turns out, this is likely the case. In a study conducted by researchers at The Wharton School and the Psychology Department at the University of Pennsylvania and Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, confidence — not more information — was found to be the universal key to success, be it with weight loss, saving money or doing homework assignments. By giving advice instead of seeking it, individuals were more likely to gain a boost in confidence and motivation to help them achieve their goals. Keep reading to discover why the study’s assertion that “in giving we receive” should be one of your new mantras for the key to success.

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Receiving Advice Can Actually Be Harmful

Asking for advice can be a good thing. If you legitimately lack knowledge on a subject, it stands to reason that someone who possesses that knowledge should guide you. However, if you already have the information you need, asking for advice can be damaging.

First, asking for help can feel, even subconsciously, like admitting weakness. You are saying that you don’t have the answer, when in fact you do. This lowers confidence even further and reinforces a pattern of second-guessing your own competence. It can also make your boss wonder why they are having to explain something to you for the millionth time.

Second, it can be a form of procrastination. Asking for advice when there is no informational deficit can keep you from executing on something, whether it’s meeting a project deadline or giving a presentation. And if you’re consistently unable to deliver until you “get a second set of eyes” or hear what so-and-so thinks, you’re sure to hurt your career.

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Your Imposter Syndrome Is Hurting Your Career

Despite your success thus far, you might feel like you’re somehow undeserving. You might suffer from self-doubt or feel that you lucked into your situation, despite all the hard work you’ve put in. This is known as “imposter syndrome” and comes in a few different forms, ranging from self-deprecation and inability to accept a compliment to being convinced you’re an utter fraud. An estimated 70 percent of the population has experienced an episode of imposter syndrome in their lives, according to research presented in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.  And this is particularly true in high-achieving women for whom the term was coined.

Though common, these feelings of inadequacy shouldn’t be accepted. Not only are they damaging to your career, but they’re mentally unhealthy. You must be able to celebrate your wins and accept your losses — and not confuse the two. If they aren’t rectified, these feelings can lead to burnout or stagnation at work.

A great way to cure your imposter syndrome is to start giving advice. It might seem counter-intuitive, but by giving advice to others, you’ll begin to recognize your own expertise and the value you provide your company.

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Giving Career Advice

Sharing your expertise with others can come in many different forms. And one of the most powerful and confidence-building methods is not to seek out a mentor — but become one.

When asked if mentorship makes a person more confident, speaker and author of “Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World,” Kelly Hoey, said, “Absolutely. Sharing information with someone else who may be on a similar career journey boosts confidence in our own efforts, for a number of reasons. In the exchange, our ideas are validated or improved, which is motivating. [And] it just feels good to help someone else, which is encouraging.”

“If you’re feeling overlooked or undervalued (and trying really hard to advance yourself in the workplace), rather than dwelling in those frustrations, build up your resilience with positivity, such as being the helpful colleague who counsels and encourages others,” Hoey said.

Don’t be afraid to invite a co-worker to grab a cup of coffee or have a quick chat in the break room. If you have a genuine desire to listen and provide solutions or opportunities to your colleague, the professional relationship could pay dividends for both of you.

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Be a Group Leader

If you’re not interested in the one-on-one mentoring method, being a leader in a small group is similarly effective at building confidence. It might seem daunting, but by volunteering to take point on a project, you are essentially asking others to place their trust in you, which is motivation for success. No one wants to let their team members down.

You might also learn new, valuable skills in the process, especially if it is a “stretch assignment” — something that puts you a little outside of your comfort zone. These skills will be added to your ever-expanding repertoire and make superiors (and future employers) take notice.

So, next time the boss asks for someone to spearhead a project, throw your hat into the ring. It’s a simple way to be an effective leader, even when you’re not in charge.

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Build a Network

Speaking of groups, Hoey says you can’t underestimate the power of a good network. “Achievement is a group activity,” she said. “To navigate your career journey with assurance, you should make nurturing, mutually beneficial relationships with others a top priority.” You can join a group at work or, better yet, start one yourself.

A network isn’t an excuse to be just a face in the crowd, of course. “You want to find like-minded individuals (that is, people who express similar values towards mentoring and advising others),” said Hoey. “Don’t simply surround yourself with peers whose experiences precisely mirror yours.” If you have nothing to provide each other because you are all too similar, the process won’t be beneficial for anyone. Find a group that you can share your experience with on your journey to slowly climb the career ladder.

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Do Favors for Others

A little give-and-take goes a long way in building a successful career, and doing favors is part of that. But this doesn’t mean you should memorize everyone’s coffee order or start pulling double shifts regularly. It simply means that by using your skills and experience to help others, you’re not only currying favor with them but shining a positive light on yourself.

For instance, if you are an Excel wizard, you could offer to show someone struggling with tables a formula that will make their life simpler. If you have experience copy editing, offer to proofread the company memo. These kinds of favors show others (and yourself) that you are a team player, as well as competent and reliable.

Jessica Hernandez, president and CEO of Great Resumes Fast, has been in the resume writing industry for more than a decade. Though she runs a successful business, she’s found time to help out others. “I actually started offering coaching on the side to help new resume writers needing advice and guidance, starting out in the industry,” she said. “It’s been a joy to be able to share and to help others grow. I’ve found that we truly do rise by lifting others.”

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Become an Expert on Something

There is perhaps no ego boost quite like the one you get from being an expert on a certain topic. It’s also a great way to ensure job security. If you’re the go-to person for something — whether it is knowing how to work the coffee maker or when to file a crucial business tax form — you ensure that others have to come for you for your knowledge. Of course, you don’t want to be an information hoarder, not sharing company passwords in hopes that you’ll never be fired, for instance. But expressing interest in something and owning that thing can prove invaluable.

Some employers will even pay for their employees to grow their knowledge. Software company Asana, for instance, provides free executive coaching for personal and professional development and companies such as Starbucks, Smuckers and Verizon will help with college tuition. Many others will pay you to receive additional certifications or provide membership access to sites like Lynda or Skillshare. Take advantage of these opportunities to hone your skill set and stand out from the pack.

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What If You're Already the Leader?

If you’re in a position of power already, it falls on you to provide opportunities to those who aren’t. That means letting people below you give advice instead of the other way around — even when you know the answer.

If you’re confident that an employee has all the necessary information, challenge them to give an opinion. “What would you do in this situation?” is a great question to not only force the employee to sharpen their problem-solving skills, but to show that you recognize his or her competence. By putting the ball in your employee’s court, you are saying that you trust that the person is smart and capable enough to come up with the answer.

Just don’t treat it like a game — if there is a true lack of understanding, you need to provide additional information so that your employee has all the resources they truly need.

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Not having the answer to a question is never fun, especially when you’re put on the spot. You frantically search your notes, your palms begin to sweat and you might as well be back in algebra class with mean old Mrs. Simpson wagging a bony finger at you. It can be a nightmare. But when you do have all the information you need, convincing yourself that you don’t know the answer is just as bad.

If you want to climb the business ladder, you need to know the value you provide your company. And unfortunately, there is no human equivalent to Kelly Blue Book, in which you can plug in all of your skills and experience and receive a nice, tidy value at the end. Your value is something only you can know — and it can be difficult. But by giving advice to others, you can boost your confidence and motivation to succeed. Soon, you’ll be able to approach every meeting, evaluation, job search and salary negotiation with the knowledge that, yes, you are meant to have a seat at the table.

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