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September 23, 2019
by Elizabeth Pratt

Why It Matters Who You Share Your Goals With

September 23, 2019 08:00 by Elizabeth Pratt  [About the Author]

What is your goal? How are you going to achieve it?

According to researchers, if you want to achieve your goal, you should tell someone about it.

In a recent study from Ohio State University published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers discovered that those who shared their goals with someone they believed had higher status than themselves were more likely to be committed to their goal and performance in relation to it.

The same effect was not seen if a person shared their goal with someone they felt was of a lower status, or if they didn’t tell anyone and kept their ambitions to themselves.

The findings go against a popular study in 2009 that found telling other people about your goals and objectives might be counterproductive. 

It also goes against the crux of an argument made in a TED talk with more than six million views.

“The study was inspired by hearing about a TED talk that argues for keeping goals to yourself if you want to achieve them. That is the opposite of what some earlier work I did suggested, so we wanted to see if it matters with whom you share goals, and the reasons why sharing goals may or may not be helpful,” Howard Klein, lead author of the study and a professor of human resources and management at Ohio State University told Theravive.

“In order for goals to be effective in motivating you and keeping you focused on what you are trying to achieve, there must be commitment to that goal. That is, you have to be dedicated to and care about attaining the goal. When you are strongly committed to a goal you are going to give more of your time, attention, and energy to attaining that goal and you will be much more persistent and determined to reach it, especially when you encounter challenges or obstacles. Sharing goals with someone is not the only way to foster goal commitment, but is an easy step that anyone can take. So, it was important to identify when sharing goals does and does not help,” he said. 

In undertaking the research, Klein and colleagues conducted several studies. In one, they found that adults in the workforce often share their career goals. The level of commitment they had towards achieving those goals was higher if they shared their ambitions with someone of a higher status.

In a second study, a group of undergraduate students were asked to move a slider on a computer screen to the number 50 as many times as they could within a certain amount of time. They then counted how many times they were successful. The students were then asked to set and write down a goal they hoped to achieve the second time they tried the exercise. They then repeated the task. 

The students were told a lab assistant would go around the room to check on the goals of each student. For the purposes of the experiment, there were two version of the lab assistant. One of the lab assistants dressed in a suit and said he was a doctoral level student with an expertise in the study topic. The other lab assistant persona wore casual clothes and said he was a student at the local community college. The students in the experiment agreed the man in the suit was regarded as higher status than the man in casual clothes, who was seen as lower status. 

The researchers found those who shared their goal with the lab assistant they thought was of higher status were more committed to achieving the goal they had written down before repeating the exercise. They also performed better on the task than others. 

“Status matters because we care more about the opinions and judgements of those we hold in higher esteem. Sharing a goal is essentially making a public pledge that you intend to attain your goal. When the goal is shared with someone higher in status, a strong social incentive to achieve the goal is added on top of the motives that led the person to set the goal.  It is much harder to lower or abandon a goal that is known by others whose opinion you value than it is a goal known only to yourself,” Klein said.

So, if you want to achieve your goals, make sure you share them… but with the right sort of person. 

“Sharing goals helps keep you accountable for attaining them, but only if you value the evaluation of the person with whom you share the goal. The key take home message from this research is that who you tell matters. If you tell someone you view as lower in status than yourself, there is no harm done, but also no benefit.  If you do not care about the judgement of the person with whom you share the goal, having done so will not foster your committed to achieving that goal,” Klein said. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald,, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

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