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Don’t Give Good Advice. Just Give a Lot of It

A new study found that the quality of advice doesn’t matter nearly as much to recipients as the quantity of it

Most of us have that friend who gives solid advice, but because they treat their car like a giant trash can or regularly eat just a sad plate of refried beans for dinner, it’s hard to take their guidance seriously. (And if you don’t know who that is in your social circle, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that no one’s taking your advice for a reason, buddy.) 

However, a new study suggests that the friend who always has their shit together may not give better advice than the friend who is still conveniently “forgetting” to bring their wallet to lunch. In fact, they’re probably just doling out more of it. “Skillful performance and skillful teaching are not always the same thing, so we shouldn’t expect the best performers to necessarily be the best teachers as well,” lead author David Levari, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Business School, explained in a press release.  

For their study, Levari and his team asked more than 1,100 participants to complete three rounds of a word scramble game. After playing, they were asked which advisors they’d prefer to receive advice from to get better at the game, and a majority said the top performers. In another experiment, 100 participants played six rounds of the game, and then wrote suggestions for other players before rating the quality of their own advice. It’s probably not surprising to hear that players who performed better tended to think they had the best advice to give. From there, an additional 2,085 participants were divided into two groups, only one of which received the advice before everyone again played multiple rounds of the game.

While the players who received advice improved with each round, the suggestions from high-scoring players weren’t any more helpful than anyone else’s. Levari and his team further confirmed this through an additional experiment with darts. ​​“In our experiments, people given advice by top performers thought that it helped them more, even though it usually didn’t,” Levari noted. “Surprisingly, they thought this even though they didn’t know anything about the people who wrote their advice.”

Finally, the researchers had two undergraduate assistants blindly evaluate the advice for things like authoritativeness, actionability or obviousness. But in the end, none of this mattered, because the only thing that predicted if people would consider the advice to be worthwhile was the sheer volume of it. “Top performers didn’t write more helpful advice, but they did write more of it, and people in our experiments mistook quantity for quality,” Levari concluded.

And so, maybe the person in your life you should listen to the closest is your most succinct friend. Because with the more verbose among us, you’re just gonna be playing the law of averages.