9 Words and Phrases You’re Probably Using Wrong

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Many times, especially in business settings, people use words that they think they know — but don’t. Although they do this in an effort to sound intelligent and sophisticated, it backfires badly, because even one small slip-up can cause an audience to focus on only that, not the speaker’s ideas. Sure, saying the wrong word (usually) isn’t a game-changer. But if you make that kind of mistake, it sets you up for a question that no one wants clients, coworkers, or employers to begin asking: “Are you really that smart?”

Think it can’t happen to you? We’ve heard horror stories: people laughing behind a prominent CEO’s back for his not understanding the correct use of a business term; a corporate lawyer saying “tenant” (a renter) instead of “tenet” (a belief); an employee toasting her supervisor as the “penultimate” leader (which doesn’t mean “ultimate” but

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The Most Powerful Lesson My Cancer Taught Me About Life and Work

I was 34 when I heard my doctor say “stage-four Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” The news hit me like a punch to the face. I was stunned.

Then every two weeks for six months, I had to go the Lineberger Cancer Center to receive chemo. I had a hard time getting out of bed on those days. I loathed the nurses injecting poison into me. Once I was there, and the chemo slid into the port, making my chest cold and my mouth taste like metal, I fought back panic.

At the time, I was working on my first book, Change to Strange, and writing a book was a real bucket-list event for me. I could have devoted time to it, but I wasn’t able to — especially in that emotional state. I felt too much anxiety, fear, dread, and disgust about the venom in my veins to do much

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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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The Key to Career Growth: Surround Yourself with People Who Will Push You

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When thinking about how to develop in our careers, most of us tend to focus on promotions, projects, courses, certifications. We seek out expanded roles, more senior titles, extra money. We overlook one very key piece of the learning puzzle:  proactively surrounding ourselves with people who will push us to succeed in unexpected ways and, in so doing, build genuinely rich, purposeful lives of growth, excellence, and impact.

Back in the 1990s, when I was working full-time as a partner in our executive search firm, I pursued one such friend—a leading researcher and writer—and cultivated the relationship for several years. And then, in 1998, during a walk along the Charles River in Cambridge, he surprised me with a challenge. He suggested that, in addition to my client practice and internal leadership roles at Egon Zehnder, I could find even more meaning (and have a larger reach)

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Having a Growth Mindset Makes It Easier to Develop New Interests

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“[T]echnology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”  — Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs’s vision for Apple was rooted in the belief that the arts and sciences do not live in isolation. They complement and enhance each other. John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar, echoed this sentiment stating, “Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.” But even though integrating these areas can be necessary for innovation, too many people confine themselves to only one.

We wanted to understand why some people are more likely to reach across disciplines than others. So we investigated people’s “mindsets” about interest and their impact.

In our research, published in Psychological Science, we found that people vary in these mindsets. Some people lean more toward the view that interests are inherent

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What to Do When You Have a Bad Boss

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Despite the $15 billion companies spend annually on managerial and leadership development, bad bosses are common in the American workforce.  A study by Life Meets Work found that 56% of American workers claim their boss is mildly or highly toxic. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans say their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.”

And a recent study by Gallup found that one in two employees have left a job “to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”

Surprisingly, though, another study found that employees end up working longer (two years, on average) for toxic bosses than nontoxic bosses. Why?

Quitting is hard

People stay in jobs with bosses they don’t like for a multitude of reasons. Some of the most common reasons I’ve heard during my 20 years of organizational

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How to Take the Stress Out of Taking Time Off

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Have you ever questioned whether taking time off is worth it because the stress of preparing for a vacation is so high?

If so, you’re not alone. Over half of Americans leave some vacation time on the table. Some of the reasons for the lack of vacations include feeling that their workload was too heavy or that no one could do their job while they were gone.

As a time management coach, I’ve observed that pre-vacation work stress typically falls into two buckets: completing work before your departure and being away from the office. Both of these categories can trigger guilt and even fear. Many people worry that if they’re not always available, something horrible will happen at work: What if once I’m out, someone notices I haven’t made progress on a project? What if something falls through the cracks? What if a client needs me? What

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How to Avoid Loneliness When You Work Entirely from Home

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Working from home can be a coveted perk, allowing you to opt out of rush-hour traffic and eliminate the tedious banalities of office life. But it can also cut you off from the spontaneous interactions that can spark new insights (part of the reason Marissa Mayer famously rescinded Yahoo’s telecommuting policies). And, at times, the solitude may lead to isolation or the feeling that you’re left out at work.

How can you combat loneliness and create positive relationships with colleagues when you work from home full-time? I’ve worked from home since 2006, when I launched my consulting and speaking business. Here are three principles I’ve found to be effective in staving off isolation, maintaining productivity, and surrounding oneself with a stimulating cadre of colleagues.

First, since you’re not physically interacting with coworkers, it’s important to seek out an online community of like-minded practitioners. The technology changes over time

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Are You Productive Enough?

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Productive: “Achieving or producing a significant amount of result.”
Enough: “As much or as many as required.”

As a time management coach, I’m keenly aware that you could answer the question “Am I productive enough?” using a variety of methods. I’m also familiar with the fact that individuals fall on a productivity spectrum. One person’s maximum productivity for a certain role in a particular environment could look vastly different from another person’s. These variations result from a combination of intrinsic ability, experience level, overall capacity, and desire.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m narrowing the definition of “productive enough” to whether you are meeting the requirements of your job when operating at your personal peak performance. This reasoning process is outlined in the flowchart below, and we’ll walk through it step-by-step by answering a series of questions. At the end of this you should have a clearer

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How to Get Someone to Put Away Their Phone and Actually Listen

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No, it’s not just you. If you’ve ever doubted that you had your boss’s full attention while her laptop is open in front of her, stop doubting. In spite of her protests that “I’m listening, go ahead…,” she wasn’t. Decades ago, research settled the question of whether you and I can do two things at once. We can’t. But emerging research shows that even the simple presence of a cell phone — much less its glowing screen and constant beeps — interrupts our ability to connect.

The problem is that manners haven’t caught up with technology. In one online survey, my colleagues and I found that nearly 9 out of 10 people say that at least once a week, their friends or family stop paying attention to them in favor of something happening on their digital devices. And 1 in 4 say these interruptions have caused a

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How to Pump Yourself Up Before a Presentation (or Calm Yourself Down)

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Public speaking affects people in different ways. Some people get jittery and anxious before they talk; they need to spend time calming themselves down before they go onstage.

Other people want to make sure they have extra energy when they’re in front of an audience. These people need to spend time amping themselves up before a talk — doing whatever helps them feel invigorated.

My pre-talk ritual has always been to be still; I would consider this a spiritual ritual. I’ll typically find a dark spot backstage to center myself, exhale calmly, and create quiet space in my head. Meanwhile, I interviewed over 40 professional speakers some of who have a more amp-it-up ritual, like doing power poses or rocking out to heavy metal bands.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try out some of these different, energizing pre-talk rituals before my last big keynote. I

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7 Skills That Aren’t About to Be Automated

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Today’s young professionals grew up in an age of mind-boggling technological change, seeing the growth of the internet, the invention of the smartphone, and the development of machine-learning systems. These advances all point toward the total automation of our lives, including the way we work and do business. It’s no wonder, then, that young people are anxious about their ability to compete in the job market. As executives who have spent our lives assessing and implementing digital technology in every type of organization, we often get asked by them: “What should I learn today so that I’ll have a job in the future?” In what follows we’ll share seven skills that can not only make you unable to be automated, but will make you employable no matter what the future holds. 

Communication. In a world where U.S. adults’ total media usage is nearly 12

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Great Leaders Are Confident, Connected, Committed, and Courageous

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Brad was leading a difficult turnaround of his company and had decided to fire his head of sales, who was a nice guy but wasn’t performing.

Three months later, he still hadn’t fired him.

I asked him why. His answer? “I’m a wimp!”

Brad (not his real name — I’ve changed some details to protect people’s privacy) is the CEO of a financial services firm and is most definitely not a wimp. He’s a normal human, just like you and me. And he’s struggling to follow through on an important, strategic decision. Just like, at times, you and I do.

No matter your age, your role, your position, your title, your profession, or your status, to get your most important work done, you have to have hard conversations, create accountability, and inspire action.

In order to do that, you need to show up powerfully and magnetically in a

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Family Businesses

Are you struggling with the complications of working in a family business? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Ted Clark, who runs the Center for Family Business at Northeastern University. They talk through advancing when you’re not a member of the family, managing up when your parents are your bosses, and whether it’s better to work for a family enterprise or a big corporation.

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Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Send in your questions about workplace dilemmas by emailing Dan and Alison at dearhbr@hbr.org.

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

HBR: Surviving in a Family Business When You’re Not Part of the Family by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer — “Successful non-family leaders stick to the ‘management

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To Overcome Your Insecurity, Recognize Where It Really Comes From

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Raymond closed down. Sandra snapped. They both had solid records and promising career prospects, and yet they felt that something was not working. Their bosses, colleagues, friends could tell too, but they were equally puzzled. How could someone so talented get so lost, or lose it, in seemingly trivial discussions, for no obvious reason?

The answer is deceptively simple and widespread: insecurity at work. The nagging worry that we are not quite as smart, informed, or competent as we ought to be, or as others might think. The fear that we are not good enough, or simply not enough. The second thoughts about our ideas, observations, and even about our feelings. The constant concern about being judged.

Feelings of insecurity leave us overdependent on external factors — admiration, praise, promotions. But even then, the feeling of achievement is generally temporary. Soon after, we turn inward, digging inside

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Why Is Crying at Work Such a Big Deal?

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I couldn’t stop crying. Months of late evenings and demanding travel had cracked my professional exterior. I tried to present my quarterly numbers while my colleagues squirmed in their seats, offered me a box of tissues, or just stared. My boss abruptly ended the meeting. My colleagues quickly evacuated the room. I was left alone in the conference room, crumpled tissues in hand.

For women, crying in a professional setting is often seen as the kiss of death:

“Stop crying! Someone will see you.”

“Quick, run to the ladies’ room!”

These are just two versions of similar warnings I’ve heard throughout my career. But it’s not just me. Female friends and colleagues have told me they too have been told to shut down the waterworks. It’s a familiar narrative for women who cry at work: Escape to bathroom. Grab toilet paper. Wipe eyes. Blow nose. Take deep breath

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How to Become More Self-Aware

Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and executive coach, talks about why we all should be working on self-awareness. Few people are truly self-aware, she says, and those who are don’t get there through introspection. She explains how to develop self-awareness through the feedback of loving critics and how to mentor someone who isn’t self-aware. Eurich is the author of the book Insight.

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Become a More Productive Learner

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Today we consume five times more information every day than we did in 1986, an incredible amount that’s equivalent to a 174 newspapers…a day. That probably includes a lot of Instagram posts, but it’s not only social media. The corporate e-learning space has grown by nine times over the last 16 years, such that almost 80% of U.S. companies offer online training for their employees, making more information accessible to them than ever before.

One would think that this would translate into increased knowledge. Yet, unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Scores of average American adults on tests of general civic knowledge — the type of information you’d assume people would pick up from scanning through all this information — has remained almost constant for the last 80 years. On the corporate side, working professionals apply only about 15% of what they learn in many

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