Bryce J. Linford, a Ph.D. student in organizational behavior, assisted with a study that shows those who share goals with successful people will see more positive results. Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

When people took part in an Ohio State study, research showed its participants did not want to disappoint.

Howard Klein, Ohio State professor in management and human resources, determined through a recent four-study series that sharing goals with successful people can positively impact someone’s achievements. 

Klein said the purpose of the study was to understand when and why sharing one’s goals helps attain one’s objectives and whether the status of a listener has an effect on how committed one is to his or her goal.

The study found that sharing a goal with someone viewed as having lower status had similar results to keeping the goal to oneself. People tended to perform better in attaining their goals when they shared their objectives with someone they viewed as having higher status than themselves, Klein said.

“The reason goal commitment increased is because of increased evaluation apprehension,” Klein said.

Bryce J. Linford, a Ph.D. student in organizational behavior who assisted with the research, said when people feel more pressure due to someone respectable knowing their goal and being able to hold them accountable, they are more likely to succeed.

“I had done some earlier work that suggested if you shared your goals, it helped you to be more committed,” Klein said.

However, Klein said other studies, one of which influenced a TEDTalk by entrepreneur Derek Sivers, indicated that sharing goals had an overall negative impact on the outcome.

“[Our] study was really designed to try and tease apart why those different results were found, and we actually didn’t find any case where sharing a goal hurt goal attainment,” Klein said.

The first study was an online survey that evaluated working adults, Klein said. The participants were asked to share a career goal and whether they had shared it with anyone else. If they had, they were asked with whom it was shared.

They found that the majority of the participants had shared their goal and were more likely to share goals with people they viewed as having higher status, Klein said. These people seemed to be more likely to succeed than those who shared with people of lower status. 

However, the finding with higher-status listeners could be due to the fact that the sharers were previously committed to success, Klein said.

“That answered some questions, but not the critical questions,” Klein said.

Klein said he and his team then designed two lab studies to further test the theory by having people share their goals with someone of their choosing. 

To test if higher status had an impact, a Ph.D. student who said he was an expert on the topic dressed in a suit and had people share their goals regarding the test they took. To test the effects of sharing with a low-status person, the same student wore jeans and a T-shirt and introduced himself as a community college student who was there to help and hear their goals.

Klein said a third group did the same task without sharing their goals to serve as a control group.

They found that people performed better on the test when they shared their goal with the Ph.D. student who was viewed as an expert on the topic, Klein said.

Researchers repeated the study again with additional measures, finding that the defining factor was the feeling of evaluation apprehension, Klein said. People did not want to disappoint.

Linford said the results of this study could benefit anyone. 

“People should have specific goals. They should have a long-term and a short-term goal. The way they can apply our findings is by writing down their goals and telling someone about them,” Linford said. 

Both Linford and Klein said they are interested in pursuing the idea of whether sharing multiple goals with higher-status people changes the results, as well as whether sharing one goal with multiple people has an influence on the outcome.