If you want to be successful, share your goals with someone more successful than you.
New research from Ohio University has found that people showed greater “goal commitment and performance” when they told their goal to someone they believed had higher status than themselves. For the study, the definition of “higher status” meant someone the participant thought had more prestige than they did and was more respected than they were. Conversely sharing their goals with someone they thought had “lower status” didn’t help at all. Nor did keeping it to themselves.
These findings are in direct contrast with the findings of a 2009 study that suggested telling other people your goals is counterproductive. This “keeping it to yourself” idea was also the subject of a popular Ted Talk by Derek Sivers that has gathered millions of views.
Howard Klein, lead author of the new study and professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, said in a statement, “Contrary to what you may have heard, in most cases you get more benefit from sharing your goal than if you don’t – as long as you share it with someone whose opinion you value.”
The study findings suggest that people were motivated by sharing a goal with someone they thought had higher status because they cared about that higher-status person’s opinion of them.
“You don’t want them to think less of you because you didn’t attain your goal,” Klein said.
The researchers conducted several experiments. In one, 171 undergraduate students were seated at computers and told to move a slider on the screen to the number 50 as many times as possible within an allotted time. They were then told to do it again, but this time after setting and writing down a goal.
A lab assistant then came around to check on their goals. In some cases, the lab assistant was dressed in a suit and introduced himself as a doctoral-level student in the business school who was an expert on the study topic in question (higher status). In other cases, the same lab assistant dressed in casual clothing and introduced himself as a student at a local community college who was working part time at the business school (lower status). A third group didn’t share their goals with the lab assistant.
Results showed that participants who shared their goals with the higher-status lab assistant were more committed to achieving their goal than those who told the lower-status assistant. And the former group did, in fact, perform better on the task.
Those who shared their goal with the lower-status assistant performed no better than those who told no one.
“If you don’t care about the opinion of whom you tell, it doesn’t affect your desire to persist – which is really what goal commitment is all about,” Klein said.
“You want to be dedicated and unwilling to give up on your goal, which is more likely when you share that goal with someone you look up to.”
Honestly, I take issue with the idea that the community college guy is “lower status” than the PhD guy. I think we should value people’s opinions of us regardless of their “status.” That’s the world we live in, I guess.
Spinning off on these study results, one might arguably draw the conclusion that, if you think of others less in terms if “status” and learn to value people equally, you will be more successful at achieving your goals – because you’ll care about all of their opinions rather than just the opinions of the “important” people?
Just a thought.