The Heavy Price of Ignoring Advice

Here’s a heads-up for anyone who seeks input from colleagues or mentors on the regular: If you shrug off their counsel, it could affect your career.

By Yvonne Milosevic

Ever been in a situation where you offered someone advice, only to have them disregard your wisdom completely? Feels awesome, right? But in truth, we don’t usually act on every single knowledge nugget we receive. Researchers from Harvard Business School conducted nine studies to determine what effect ignoring advice from colleagues might have. Turns out, it could provoke an unexpected backlash. Worst-case scenario: it ends up mortally wounding a valuable workplace relationship.

It wasn’t difficult to confirm that advisors got offended (natch) when their guidance was ignored. Most commonly, they took umbrage upon discovering they weren’t the sole oracle of wisdom consulted. Likewise, their egos took a hit when their sage recommendations landed in the reject pile.

The paper Seeker Beware: The Interpersonal Costs of Ignoring Advice, also reveals that these huffy advisors “May punish those colleagues by denigrating them, distancing themselves—and in some cases, even severing the relationship.” Yikes.

In one study, the research team learned that more than half of the financial planners they studied said they ended a relationship with a client after the client ignored their advice.

“If you’re an entrepreneur seeking advice from a potential board member and your goal in that interaction is to establish a relationship, you should be aware of these effects so you’re not falling victim to the negative consequences that may come from not taking the board member’s advice,” says the paper’s co-author Hayley Blunden.

Advice for advice-seekers

It’s not possible to follow every piece of advice you receive. So how can you navigate this career landmine and still get the feedback you need? The first step is realizing that you and the person in the advisor position see the exchange in different ways. Your goal might be to gain as much knowledge as possible. You tap many sources to make an informed decision. The advisor, meanwhile, believes he or she is the only person you’ve consulted because their input is invaluable.

Consider letting the person know upfront that you’re checking in with various people for advice on a particular problem. That way, their ego remains in check, and they can decide how much of their energy to invest in your issue. The paper’s authors also suggest being discerning about who you ask in the first place. Are you likely to follow the person’s advice? How might they react if you don’t take their suggestions?

“These are people with egos and motives, and your relationship with them is important,” Blunden says. “In workplace interactions, you should look beyond just the information you want to receive and think of people as more than mere repositories of advice.”

Point taken.