Share your goals- but be careful whom you tell

If you want to achieve a goal, make sure you share your objective with the right person.


Recent research has found that people showed more prominent goal commitment and performance when they share their goal with somebody they believe had higher status than themselves. It helps people to stay motivated.

On the other hand, keeping goals to themselves or sharing it to someone with lower status won’t help at all, suggests the study.

Howard Klein, the lead author of the new study and professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University‘s Fisher College of Business, said, “These results run counter to a widely reported 2009 study that suggested telling other people your goals is counterproductive. 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.”

In these studies, higher-status people were those who the participants thought had more prestige and respect than they did.

One of the studies suggests that working adults are more likely to share their goals, and they value their commitment more to attain those goals.

In another investigation, 171 understudies were seated at computers and advised to move a slider on the screen to the number 50 as many times possible within a given time. After counting how many times they successfully did this, they had to do it again, but this time, they were told to sit and write down a goal.

Participants were then informed that a lab assistant would come to check their goals. Each time, the assistant has different versions. Sometimes, 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 today’s study topic. That was someone the undergraduate participants agreed was a higher-status person than themselves.

When the assistant wore casual dress and introduced himself as a student at a local community college, participants rated him as lower in status than themselves.

Participants in the third group didn’t share their goals with the assistant.

The outcomes showed that participants who shared their goals with the higher-status lab assistant reported that they were more committed to achieving the goal they set for themselves than were those who told the lower-status assistant. What’s more, it worked efficiently.

The second group didn’t perform better than those who told no one about their goal.

Klein said, “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. 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.

A third similar study also asked participants about their “evaluation apprehension” – how much they cared about what the lab assistant thought of them. The results showed that participants who cared more about what the lab assistant thought of them was more committed to their goal and were more likely to achieve it. Also, evaluation apprehension was higher when the lab assistant was viewed as having a higher status.

Klein said, “Evaluation apprehension may be one key to why it helps to tell a higher-status person about your goals. But it may be possible to take that too far.”

“We didn’t find it in this study, but you may create so much anxiety in trying to impress someone that it could interfere with your performance.”

In one study with 292 college students, students set challenging grade goals at the beginning of the semester and shared them. The outcomes show more similarity to the results of other studies, which suggests sharing purposes to higher-status people works better than sharing goals to lower-status people.

Klein said, “These findings provide evidence that counters popular media recommendations – including a TED talk with more than 6 million views – that one should stay silent about a goal. Those recommendations are based on an oversimplification of one journal article, the results of which run counter to the majority of studies in the field.”

Whom should you share your goals with?

Klein recommends, “For work goals, a supervisor is an obvious choice, but it depends on the situation. If your goal is to get a better job or if you have another goal, you would not want your supervisor to know; a mentor may be a better choice. You can even look to someone you admire outside of work to tell.”

“No matter what kind of goal you’re talking about, one thing matters when sharing. The important thing is that you need to care about the opinion of who you are telling.”

The study was published online recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology and will appear in a future print edition.

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