People are often highly motivated to avoid threats. If you are walking down a dark, isolated city street, you are vigilant for unexpected sights and sounds and probably pick up the pace to get back to a populated area as quickly as possible. If you step into the street and see a bus bearing down on you, you jump back. If a large unfamiliar dog is growling outside your front door, you stay inside.
When we think about productivity at work, we often think about how to motivate ourselves — or the people on our team. But sometimes the people who are struggling to stay focused and engaged are our peers. And while it may not be an official part of your job description, helping a colleague is the kind thing to do and can be beneficial to your own productivity.
Here are several things you can do for your colleagues to help them through a rough patch.
The first step is to let your colleague know that you’ve noticed they’re off their game. Find a time to chat with them at their desk or invite them to grab a cup of coffee or a drink after work. Tell them what you’ve observed. Perhaps they look down, or frustrated, or unable to concentrate.
Public speaking is so stressful for so many people that it is routinely used as a stress manipulation in psychological studies. Tell undergrads they have 10 minutes to prepare a speech that will be evaluated by experts, and their levels of the stress hormone cortisol shoot through the roof.
Yet success in many roles requires speaking in public. In addition to presenting in my classes, I typically give a talk per week in front of groups. People ask me if speaking gets me nervous. It does not. And I give a lot of credit to my fascination with stand-up comedy. While I’m not a comedian myself, I’ve been a fan of comedians and their process for a long time, and I think there are three lessons that anyone can learn from them about public speaking.
It’s OK to Die
Why exactly is public speaking so nerve-wracking? One main reason:
Most people I know have a to-do list so long that it’s not clear that there’s an end to it. Some tasks, even quite important ones, linger unfinished for a long time, and it’s easy to start feeling guilty or ashamed about what you have not yet completed.
People experience guilt and its close cousin shame when they have done something wrong. Guilt is focused internally on the behavior someone has committed, while shame tends to involve feeling like you are a bad person, particularly in the context of bad behaviors that have become public knowledge.
The fundamental question is whether these feelings are a good thing. To answer that, it’s worth quoting the movie Bridge of Spies. Mark Rylance plays the spy Rudolf Abel. He’s asked at one point whether he is worried, and he responds, “Would it help?”
In almost any business these days, you are guaranteed to interact with people whose cultural background is quite different from your own. In a global organization, you may have colleagues that come from a different country. You may partner with organizations whose employees come from another part of the country. There may also be cultural differences between you and some of the customers and clients you serve.
You may be tempted to follow the golden rule — and treat everyone exactly the way you would want to be treated. But that’s not the most effective way to navigate cultural differences. You want to accord people the same respect you expect from them, but how you interact with them will depend a lot on their expectations about what particular interactions should look like. This is why it’s helpful to know what specific cultural differences are.
Chances are that you spend between a third and a half of your waking hours each week at work. As a result, your relationships with people at work can become among the most important relationships in your life. Indeed, having good relationships with colleagues is one of the strongest predictors of people’s happiness at work.
That said, there are potential downsides to having good friends at work.
The most significant thing to watch out for relates to an ethical rule in psychotherapy called the dual relationship principle. This principle states that if someone serves as a therapist for a patient, then they cannot have any other relationship with that patient. They cannot be friends, coworkers, family, or romantic partners.
The reasoning behind the principle is that every relationship has goals associated with it, and when you have more than one relationship, those goals can conflict and cause
Have you ever left a meeting feeling that you dominated the whole thing — and not in a good way? You talked a lot, and in the end, you felt that nobody else had enough time to speak. This is a bad dynamic for several reasons. People don’t want to attend meetings that are just an opportunity for one person to deliver a monologue. And with one person taking up the airspace in a meeting, team members no longer feels that they’re working together.
What can you do to help ensure that you are not the only one talking in meetings? The obvious answer is to talk less, but that’s often easier said than done. And if other people are not used to speaking much in meetings, the absence of your voice could create a void that nobody fills. Here are a few things you can try.
Not long ago, I had the chance to speak to a networking group for job seekers over the age of 40. Many of the people in attendance had worked for over 10 years at companies and were then let go. A number of them had been out of work for six months or more and were starting to get worried about their prospects of finding a job.
This situation is quite stressful, particularly when you’re watching people younger than you getting hired into positions you wish you could’ve had. Faced with this situation, it is easy to start getting desperate to land a job — and to unwittingly show that desperation to your prospective employers. There are several reasons you want to avoid appearing — at networking events or in job interviews — as if you need the job too much.
One of the great frustrations of being a middle manager is that senior leaders make decisions that go against what you would have done had it been up to you. Sometimes you are part of the decision process, and other times the decision is simply handed down. Either way, you are now responsible for ensuring that the plan is carried out.
A natural reaction in this situation is to begrudgingly go along with the chosen course of action. You might even be tempted to communicate to your peers and supervisees that you’re not convinced this is the right way to go.
Resist that temptation. Your job is to help your organization succeed. You won’t be fulfilling that role if you — intentionally or unintentionally — undermine the decision. Instead, start by asking yourself whether you trust the organization you work for. If — deep down —
There is a broad assumption in society and in education that the skills you need to be a leader are more or less transferable. If you can inspire and motivate people in one arena, you should be able to apply those skills to do the same in another venue.
But recent research is rightly challenging this notion. Studies suggest that the best leaders know a lot about the domain in which they are leading, and part of what makes them successful in a management role is technical competence. For example, hospitals managed by doctors perform better than those managed by people with other backgrounds. And there are many examples of people who ran one company effectively and had trouble transferring their skills to the new organization.
Over the last year, I’ve been working with a group at the University of Texas thinking about what leadership education would
Typical stories of creativity and invention focus on finding novel ways to solve problems. James Dyson found a way to adapt the industrial cyclone to eliminate the bag in a vacuum cleaner. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque developed cubism as a technique for including several views of a scene in the same painting. The desktop operating system developed at Xerox PARC replaced computer commands with a spatial user interface.
These brief descriptions of these innovations all focus primarily on the novel solution. The problem they solve seems obvious.
But framing innovations in this way makes creativity seem like a mystery. How could so many people have missed the solution to the problem for so long? And how in the world did the first person come up with that solution at all?
In fact, most people who come up with creative solutions to problems rely on a relatively straightforward method: finding
When your team is tasked with generating ideas to solve a problem, suggesting a brainstorming session is a natural reaction. But does that approach actually work?
Although the term “brainstorming” is now used as a generic term for having groups develop ideas, it began as the name of a specific technique proposed by advertising executive Alex Osborn in the 1950s. He codified the basic rules that many of us follow when getting people together to generate ideas: Toss out as many ideas as possible. Don’t worry if they’re too crazy. Build on the ideas people generate. Don’t criticize initially.
These rules seem so obvious and clear that it’s hard to believe they don’t work. However, decades of studies demonstrate that groups that use Osborn’s rules of brainstorming come up with fewer ideas (and fewer good ideas) than the individuals would have developed alone.
At this point, everybody knows emotional intelligence matters in the workplace. Yet there are two aspects of emotions that make it hard for people to exercise their emotional intelligence. First, most people are still not completely clear about what emotions actually are. Second, even when we understand emotions conceptually, it can still be hard to deal with our own emotional states.
To tackle the first problem: emotions are interpretations of feelings. While in everyday speech, “emotion” and “feeling” are often used interchangeably, psychologists distinguish between them.
The feelings you have (what psychologists call affect) emerge from your motivational system. You generally feel good when you are succeeding at your goals and bad when you are not. The more deeply your motivational system is engaged with a situation, the stronger your feelings.
The motivational system, however, is not that well connected to the brain regions that help you to tell
There are two reasons most of us aren’t very good at creative problem solving. First, few people get training in how to be creative in their education. Second, few people understand group dynamics well enough to harness their power to help groups maximize their creativity.
Resolving the first issue requires getting your employees to learn more about the way they think… a tall order for managers. The second issue, though, is well within your ability to change.
A key element of creativity is bringing existing knowledge to bear on a new problem or goal. The more people who can engage with that problem or goal, the more knowledge that is available to work on it. Unfortunately, quite a bit of research demonstrates that the traditional brainstorming methods first described by Alex Osborn in the 1950’s fail. When groups simply get together and start throwing out ideas, they actually come up
Lots of articles about giving good presentations focus on structure and style. Tips focus on the role of stories to get people interested in the material, the value of summaries at the end of talk, and the many facets of presentation performance – things like how you should stand and ways to use your hands and arms as you speak.
At the foundation of any presentation, though, is a fundamental goal that is often overlooked in helping speakers to design their presentation: that the presentation change the audience in some way.
To do this, you will almost always be trying to influence their memories, and so you need to be aware of how information gets into memory in order to create presentations that will have high impact.
In most talks, you are trying to affect the explicit memory of your audience. Explicit memory involves the aspects of your presentation that people
Stress exists in every workplace, and all of us have probably tried a few trendy stress-management approaches. But rather than trying the latest fad, it may be more effective to understand how stress works and where it comes from, so that you can create your own methods for dealing with it.
Stress is an emotional response; like all emotional responses, it emerges from the functioning of the motivational system. Your motivational system engages goals and gives them energy so that you can pursue them. Simply put, when you succeed at your goals, you feel good, and when you don’t succeed you feel bad.
Stress is a negative emotion, so the first thing we can see about stress is that it reflects a goal you are not currently achieving.
Your motivational system also has two distinct subcomponents. One (called the approach system) is focused on achieving desirable outcomes, while the