Staying Focused in a Noisy Open Office

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Let’s face it: The open office can be a nightmare, especially when you’re working on something that requires your undivided attention. To make matters worse, your colleagues can be distracting — maybe they’re having loud conversations or their cell phones are constantly chirping. How can you make peace with your open office? How should you handle loud coworkers who are disturbing your focus? What’s the best way to cope with the noise and distractions in your office without coming across as antisocial or rude?

What the Experts Say
There is an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of open offices. Some research indicates they spark creativity and camaraderie, while newer studies suggest that open offices encourage employees to avoid one another. When designed well, these spaces can foster collaboration by “offering opportunities for serendipitous interactions with people all over the company,” says David Burkus, an

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How to Cope with Secondhand Stress

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It’s a well-known phenomenon: Emotions are contagious. If you work with people who are happy and optimistic, you’re more likely to feel the same. The flip side is true too: If your colleagues are constantly stressed out, you’re more likely to suffer.

How do you avoid secondhand stress? Can you distance yourself from your coworkers’ emotions without ostracizing them? And should you try to improve their well-being?

What the Experts Say
First, the bad news: Secondhand stress is nearly inescapable. “We live in a hyperconnected world, which means we are more at risk for negative social contagion than at any point in history,” says Shawn Achor, a lecturer and researcher, and the author of The Happiness Advantage. “Secondhand stress comes from verbal, nonverbal, and written communication, which means we can pick it up even via cellphone.” But the good news is that we are not helpless,

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How to Help Your Spouse Cope with Work Stress

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Home is a sanctuary from work stress, right? Not always. Even if you are able to leave your projects and worries at the office, your spouse may have difficulty doing so — and that stress can rub off on you. How can you help your partner cope? What’s the best thing to say when your partner starts complaining — and what should you not say? Is there a way to help them see things differently? And how can you set boundaries so that home can be a haven again?

What the Experts Say
Dealing with stress is a fact of working life. And when you’re half of a dual-career couple, you have both your own stress to manage and your significant other’s stress as well. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to Jennifer Petriglieri, assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD. “Two careers can mean

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How to Beat Mid-Career Malaise

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We all have times when we wonder, “Am I at the right company? Am I in the right job? And is this all there is?” These questions are especially agonizing for mid-career professionals who may be searching for fulfillment while juggling demands at home and intense financial pressures to earn. How should you address a mid-career crisis? What actions can you take to improve your professional satisfaction? How can you combat the dullness and tedium of your workaday life? And how can you tell if it’s time to make a drastic change?

What the Experts Say
Mid-career malaise runs deep. It’s much more than just an “episodic moment” of frustration or “a particularly gruesome work project” that depletes you, says Gianpiero Petriglieri, associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD. “It’s a protracted feeling of, ‘Am I missing something?’” This type of professional discontent is relatively common in middle age, he says.

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How to Prove Yourself After a Promotion

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When you’re promoted to a new job, there are a lot of relationships that need recalibrating. You have a new boss, new direct reports, and, importantly, a new set of peers — people who had been above you on the org chart but are now on the same level. How can you show you have what it takes to be their equal without appearing arrogant? How do you break out of the mentee/mentor dynamic? And what should you do about that one colleague who doesn’t take you seriously?

What the Experts Say
Congratulations on your promotion — now you need to prove you’re worthy of it in the eyes of those who have known you as an underling. “Any time you change your role or you get promoted, there’s a change in the rules of engagement,” says Amy Jen Su, managing partner of Paravis Partners and coauthor of Own

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Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

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In every conversation at work, there’s the explicit discussion happening — the words being spoken out loud — and the tacit one. To be successful in most organizations, it’s important to understand the underlying conversations and reactions that people in the room are having. But if you aren’t picking up on those subtle cues, how can you learn to do so? What signals should you be looking for? And what can you do to influence the unspoken dynamics?

What the Experts Say
“Knowing how to read between the lines is a critical workplace skill,” says Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of How to Be Happy at Work. “You need to understand other people — what they want, what they don’t want, their fears, hopes, dreams, and motivations,” she says. “This builds trust. And trust is fundamental to getting things done.

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What to Do When You’re Stuck Between Your Boss and Your Boss’s Boss

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It’s smart to have strong relationships with both your boss and your boss’s boss, but when there’s conflict between the two of them, you’re often in a tough spot. What’s the best way to navigate this situation? Should you align yourself with the person who has the most influence over your job and career? How can you be as transparent as possible without risking your relationships?

What the Experts Say
It’s no fun being caught between your boss and your boss’s boss. “It’s like when you were a kid and your parents would fight,” says Priscilla Claman, the president of Career Strategies, a Boston-based consulting firm and a contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job. “You feel stuck in the middle.” Not only is the situation “awkward and uncomfortable,” but it can also be “very time intensive,” says Nancy Rothbard, the David Pottruck

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How to Manage an Insecure Employee

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When employees lack self-confidence, it can be hard to get them to perform at their best. So how can you help them excel at their job? What kind of coaching should you provide? What’s the best way to boost their self-esteem? And how do you deal with your own frustration around their insecure behavior?

What the Experts Say
Insecure employees are “hard to evaluate, hard to coach, and hard to develop,” says Ethan Burris, an associate professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin. “The challenge is that insecure people are so concerned with how they look and how they are perceived that they either fail to solicit critical feedback or completely ignore it when it’s given. And this robs them of the opportunity to improve.” Your interpersonal relationships with insecure employees also tend to be more complicated, says Mary Shapiro, a professor at Simmons College

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How to Develop Empathy for Someone Who Annoys You

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When someone you work with annoys you, it’s tempting to avoid the person as much as possible. But this isn’t always feasible and often only makes the situation worse. You’re better off cultivating some empathy. How can you do that with a colleague who rubs you the wrong way? How can you foster curiosity instead of animosity?

What the Experts Say
“We’ve all encountered someone in the workplace who irritates us,” says Annie McKee, the author of How to Be Happy at Work and a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. “It may have to do with this person’s communication style, or maybe he engages in behaviors that you find rude — he’s always late to meetings, say.” But at a time when work is more and more team-oriented and projects often require intense collaboration, “you have to find a way to connect and

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How to Increase Your Influence at Work

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To be effective in organizations today, you must be able to influence people. Your title alone isn’t always enough to sway others, nor do you always have a formal position. So, what’s the best way to position yourself as an informal leader? How do you motivate colleagues to support your initiatives and adopt your ideas? How can you become a go-to person that others look to for guidance and expert advice?

What the Experts Say
Having influence in the workplace has “clear value,” says Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You. “You get more done and you advance the projects you care about and are responsible for,” which means “you’re more likely to be noticed, get promoted, and receive raises.” But gaining influence in the modern workplace is difficult, according to Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues. “It’s never been harder to influence others, because they’ve

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How to Ask for a Promotion

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Asking for a promotion can be nerve-wracking. But when you think you’re ready for the next step, it’s important to say so. How do you prepare for that conversation with your boss? What information should you have at the ready? And how exactly do you make your case?

What the Experts Say
“Asking for a promotion makes you feel vulnerable,” says Sabina Nawaz, the global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker, and writer. “You’re not in control; you’re putting yourself in the hands of your manager to be judged — and you might be judged not worthy.” You may fret that you’ll be “bugging your boss” or come across as greedy and “self-serving.” But, to advance in your career, you’ll need to learn to advocate for yourself, says Joseph Weintraub, the founder and faculty director of the Babson Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program. “You

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How to Tell an Employee They Didn’t Get a Promotion

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It’s no fun to tell employees that they’ve been passed over for a promotion — especially if you value them and their work. What’s the best way to deliver the bad news? What can you say to make sure they don’t lose interest in their jobs or hold grudges against you or the decision makers? Should you offer something else in place of the promotion?

What the Experts Say
News of this kind is “hard to hear, and it’s hard to deliver,” says Joseph Weintraub, a professor at Babson College and the coauthor of The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business. Because the topic is so unpleasant, it’s a “conversation that many managers have a tendency to want to avoid.” And for good reason, says Heidi Grant, author of No One Understands You and What to Do About It and 9 Things Successful People

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What to Do When You Don’t Feel Valued at Work

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It’s no fun to toil away at a job where your efforts go unnoticed. How can you highlight your achievements without bragging about your work? Who should you talk to about feeling underappreciated? And if the situation doesn’t change, how long should you stay?

What the Experts Say
“There’s nothing worse than feeling unseen and unheard in the workplace,” says Annie McKee, author of How to Be Happy at Work. “We all have a human need to be appreciated for our efforts, and so when your colleagues don’t notice [your contributions], it makes you feel as though you don’t belong.” You might also start to worry – justifiably – about your potential professional advancement. “Self-doubt starts to creep in, and you think, ‘If no one notices what I’m doing, how am I going to get ahead?’” But you are not powerless to change the situation, says

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How to Apply for a New Job After You’ve Been Fired

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After you’ve been fired, getting back into the job market can be difficult. How should your résumé reference the previous position, or should you even include it? What should you say in an interview? And how can you go into the application process feeling positive about your prospects?

What the Experts Say
Looking for a job is never easy, and it can be even more nerve-wracking after your confidence has been through the wringer. It’s natural to feel slightly paranoid, says John Lees, UK-based career strategist and author of The Success Code. “You have no idea how much information about you and your circumstances is out there beyond what you’re broadcasting,” he says. And you might fret that others will perceive your firing as a stain on your record, says Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at global executive search firm Egon Zehnder and the author of It’s Not

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How to Tell If a Company’s Culture Is Right for You

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Congratulations, you got the job! Now you have to decide whether to take it. You’ve done your research and know the ins and outs of the company’s public profile, but how can you assess cultural fit — and if you’d actually be happy working there? Should you reach out to former employees? Or ask to spend a day at the office?

What the Experts Say
During the interview process, you had a singular goal: to get an offer. Now that you have one, you need to assess whether the job and organization are a good fit. It isn’t necessarily a straightforward task, according to Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at Egon Zehnder and the author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who. After all, you’ve probably been in your potential new office only a handful of times and met potential colleagues when everyone was on

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How to Apply for a Job You’re Overqualified For

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A job opening catches your attention but the required experience is only eight years — and you’ve been in the industry for 15. Should you still apply? And if you’re called in for an interview, should you acknowledge you might be overqualified? What should you consider before taking the role?

What the Experts Say
There are many reasons why you might go for a job that doesn’t match your level of experience. You may be switching industries, or trying to get into a particular company. You may be relocating to a new city, or looking to maximize flexibility in your personal life. Or maybe you just really need a job. But don’t assume your impressive résumé will guarantee you an offer, says Berrin Erdogan, a professor of management at Portland State University and the lead author of a recent study on the subject. “There is a prejudice,” she explains. “Hiring

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