Tough Advice from Experienced Advisers Helps Us Acquire Skills

(p. R6) Recent studies suggest that people tend to favor advisers who are positive, cheerleader-types over tough talkers and voices of experience. But such preferences, the researchers also say, often lead to detrimental results, a finding with wide-ranging implications for companies and managers.

A paper published in March [2020] in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General summarized the findings of six connected studies. Subjects of inquiry included: what characteristics people predict they will use when selecting an adviser; those people’s actual adviser selections; and the potential consequences of these decisions.

. . .

And when researchers looked at the outcomes of these decisions, they noted a disturbing pattern. Those who relied primarily on cheerleader-types generally underperformed those who were guided more by expertise.

Catherine Shea, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business who focuses on organizational behavior and theory, says that choosing an experienced mentor who may be rough around the edges can be like taking cough medicine.

“It tastes awful, but it works,” she says. “Sometimes you really do need the skill set, and sometimes the nice person is not going to give it to you.”

For the full story, see:

Cheryl Winokur Munk. “People Want Mentors Who Are Their Cheerleaders. That May Not Be Wise.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 15, 2020): R6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 14, 2020, and has the title “People Like Their Mentors to Be Cheerleaders. That May Be a Mistake.”)

The March 2020 paper mentioned above is:

Hur, Julia D., Rachel L. Ruttan, and Catherine T. Shea. “The Unexpected Power of Positivity: Predictions Versus Decisions About Advisor Selection.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (published online in advance of print on March 16, 2020).

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