How to Take Criticism Well

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to run an organization. I was excited about the possibilities ahead of us and the goals we could realize. However, instead of receiving unanimous enthusiasm for what I thought was an exciting vision, some team members found fault with my ideas and judged me personally. They said my agenda was too ambitious and self-serving. Some thought I wasn’t listening to what my constituents wanted.

Even though three-quarters of the team supported my vision, I fixated on the quarter that did not. I knew I was generally well-liked because I spent a large portion of my time and energy on pleasing others. The thought that some people didn’t like me felt like a punch in the gut. I lost sleep, couldn’t concentrate, and lost five pounds in one week (not how I wanted to lose those pounds). I started to consider how I could give in to what the naysayers wanted, even though it wasn’t the right thing for the organization.

Eventually, after a lot of hard work, I figured out how to be resilient when being criticized. This enabled me to stand my ground and take actions that benefited the organization, not just my self-worth. Here are the lessons I learned from that experience:

Be prepared; don’t freeze. Criticism is inevitable, especially if we invite diverse perspectives and boldly lay out a big vision. Unfortunately, our response to the disapproval of others may not be entirely within our control. Feeling “attacked” may trigger an involuntary fight-flight-or-freeze response in the amygdala. We may capitulate, cry, or lash out — actions we’ll probably regret later. We’ll probably also think of the perfect response but only after the fact. Instead of being caught off guard, prepare a list of three to five ways to respond to critics in the moment. Have these responses handy on your phone or a sticky note in case your brain draws a blank. For example, you might paraphrase what you heard to ensure you correctly understood what was said and demonstrate to the other person that you’re listening. Or you could say something like, “This is a new perspective. I appreciate your willingness to share a different point of view. I’d like to give this genuine consideration and get back to you.”

Calibrate; don’t catastrophize. If it’s very important to you that people like you and your ideas, you may be particularly sensitive to any form of censure. But try to keep things in perspective. For example, in a meeting, small gestures from the team such as throat clearing or focusing on a phone during your presentation may be the result of an allergy or distraction not negativity toward your ideas. Instead of jumping to conclusions, ask what’s going on. You might say, “I notice you’re frowning. Is it related to what we’ve been discussing?” If the person expresses a concern, make sure you understand the degree of intensity, importance, or urgency of their disapproval. You might say, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how frustrated are you about this?” or “How important is this to you?”

Accumulate; don’t react. If it’s the first time you’ve heard a certain judgment, become curious about the broader picture. Are you hearing this because this person is the canary in the proverbial coal mine and  is the first to say something? Or is this a single instance, best set aside until you hear similar comments from others?

Apply the criticism to your role, not yourself. We often mistake our role for ourselves. We take things personally that are not personal at all; they are a condition of the job we’re in. For example, the head of sales might find fault with the head of products — no matter who occupies that position. Instead of conflating yourself and your role, determine whether the criticism is about you or the issues and tensions your role naturally evokes.

Connect with your personal board of directors; don’t isolate yourself. When we’re reeling from criticism, we tend to withdraw from others. Instead, reach out. Cultivate a diverse group of six to 12 people who are invested in your success and who will tell you the truth. Contact the members of this personal board of directors, share how the negative comments affected you, and seek their perspective and advice.

Take care of yourself; don’t try to push through. If your colleagues’ comments are particularly painful, it might take a psychological and physiological toll. You may find it hard to sleep or eat well. During these times, carve out more time for yourself. Identify two to three small rituals or practices that help renew your energy. It’s important that these actions are fairly simple so that you actually do them. Some examples might be taking a three-minute walk outdoors to get some fresh air, connecting with a friend on your drive home, journaling for five minutes at night, or waking up each morning and thinking about one person you’re grateful for in your life. (Bonus points if you then send that person a note expressing your gratitude.)

After many long walks, I realized that even though I’d spent most of my life trying to be likeable, it was an illusion to believe that I would be universally beloved. To move forward as a successful executive, I had to develop a stomach for criticism — even if it meant a bruised ego. In the end, I talked to the people in my organization and acknowledged their various opinions. Then I clearly stated what the plan would be going forward and told the group that I hoped they would join me in working wholeheartedly toward the goals I had presented. Most of them did. Over time, I increased my resilience by following the steps above. I’ve learned to face the realities and benefits of diverse opinions and to value the parts of myself that others may criticize.

Sabina Nawaz is a global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker, and writer working in over 26 countries. She advises C-level executives in Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and academic organizations. Sabina has spoken at hundreds of seminars, events, and conferences including TEDxand has written for, and, in addition to Follow her on Twitter.


How to Have Difficult Conversations Virtually

As the psycholinguist Herb Clark has pointed out, human communication is optimized for small numbers of people to talk together face-to-face in real time. The further we get from this ideal situation, the more opportunities there are for communication to go awry.

And, yet, so many of us work with people who we never see in person because they (or we) work remotely, are in different offices, or in different parts of the world. This can make communication challenging. This is particularly true when the situation or topic of conversation is going to create stress for you, the other person, or both of you.

When you are trying to explore topics with your colleagues that are emotionally or conceptually difficult, it’s good to get as close to the ideal situation as possible. Being able to interact in real time lets people interrupt a speaker if they get confused or have trouble following the conversation. This coordinated negotiation is a hallmark of effective communication.

When a situation is emotionally challenging, visual contact is even more important. Facial expressions provide a lot of information about what people are feeling. Even fleeting changes in what people display, so-called micro-expressions, can provide useful information about people’s initial reactions to information. When you’re exchanging emails or texts, or even if you’re on the phone, you’re likely to miss momentary changes in people’s facial expressions — and the meaning they convey.

If you need to have what you expect to be a challenging conversation with someone, there are several things you can do.

Create a sense of co-presence. The more difficult the conversation you are having, the more you need to think about the technology you are using and how to make it as seamless as possible. You need to create a sense of co-presence, which is the ability to feel as though you can interact effectively with another person. For example, you might consider using a phone connection for voice and to reserve bandwidth for video if you do not have a great internet connection. Also try to keep the environment free from distraction so everyone can concentrate on the conversation itself. This is particularly important if you work in an open office environment.

Have eye contact, if possible. When having emotionally difficult conversations — particularly when delivering bad news — it’s best to be able to make eye contact with the person you are talking to and to present information in a sympathetic and caring manner. It can be difficult to use your facial expression and tone of voice to convey your attitude in virtual environments. Try to use technology like videoconferencing or Skype if you can’t get together.

Be specific. There are two kinds of distance created by virtual conversations. One is physical distance. The second is that the barriers to making a connection can increase the sense of distance between people in a conversation. Research on construal level theory points out that the more distant you are from something or someone socially or in time or space, the more abstractly you are likely to think about them. However, having difficult conversations often requires providing specific feedback not abstraction. This is particularly true when addressing problems with someone’s performance at work, where you need to give specific demonstrations of problems and particular actions that someone can take to fix the problem.

Take care to override the effects of distance and make your discussion as specific as possible. It can be helpful to take notes before a conversation so that you have particular examples to bolster your main points. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a conversation that does not help people to address the difficulties you have noticed.

Having difficult conversations is hard to do successfully under the best of circumstances. When you must have that conversation virtually, a little extra preparation can go a long way toward making the interaction feel more like it would if you were in the same place at the same time.

Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. His new book is Bring Your Brain to Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do it Well, and Advance Your Career (HBR Press).


Generational Differences At Work Are Small. Thinking They’re Big Affects Our Behavior

Look around your workplace and you are likely to see people from across the age span, particularly as more Americans are working past age 55. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management argues that there are a full five generations on the job today, from the Silent Generation to Gen Z.

A result of this boost in age diversity are conversations about how generational differences will impact the functioning of our organizations. After all, Millennials only want to communicate with coworkers via text — and Baby Boomers don’t text, right? And you need to attract those tech-y Millennials with promises of flexible work schedules, but their older counterparts all want a traditional workday, correct? Well, actually, wrong.

Most of the evidence for generational differences in preferences and values suggests that differences between these groups are quite small. In fact, there is a considerable variety of preferences and values within any of these groups. For example, a thorough analysis of 20 different studies with nearly 20,000 people revealed small and inconsistent differences in job attitudes when comparing generational groups. It found that, although individual people may experience changes in their needs, interests, preferences, and strengths over the course of their careers, sweeping group differences depending on age or generation alone don’t seem to be supported.

So what might really matter at work are not actual differences between generations, but people’s beliefs that these differences exist. These beliefs can get in the way of how people collaborate with their colleagues, and have troubling implications for how we people are managed and trained.

Why Do We Have Inaccurate Beliefs about Age?

An emerging area of research in the field of Industrial-Organizational Psychology considers age-related beliefs from two different but intermingling angles. Work on age stereotypes looks at the content and impact of beliefs about people from another age group. A stereotype about young people, for example, might be that they are narcissistic.

A relatively newer concept called age meta-stereotypes looks at what we think others believe about us based on our age group.  A young person, then, might worry that other people think they are narcissistic, even if the other people are not actually thinking this. If both of these processes are occurring in an age-diverse workplace at the same time, employees are likely having knee-jerk thoughts about what other people must be like (stereotypes) while simultaneously assuming that the same people are making assumptions about them (meta-stereotypes).

Our research suggests that workplaces are brimming with age-related stereotypes and meta-stereotypes, and that these beliefs are not always accurate or aligned. In one survey of 247 young (18-29), middle-aged (33-50), and older workers (51-84), people described the qualities that might be true of people in another age group (their stereotypes). They also described the qualities that other people might have about their own age group (their meta-stereotypes).

The pattern of their responses varied by age group. People’s stereotypes of older workers were largely positive and included words like “responsible,” “hard-working,” and “mature.” Yet older workers themselves worried that others might see them as “boring,” “stubborn,” and “grumpy.” The stereotypes of middle-aged workers were largely positive (“ethical”), and they believed the other age groups would see them as positive (“energetic”).

Stereotypes about younger workers were somewhat less positive, however, resulting in more of a range of stereotypes from positive (“enthusiastic”) to negative (“inexperienced”). Even so, younger workers believed that others would see them in a more negative manner than they actually did (“unmotivated” and “irresponsible”). Broadly, these results demonstrate that older and younger workers believe others view them more negatively than they actually do. These cases confirm that neither age-related stereotypes or meta-stereotypes are accurate.

How Do Inaccurate Beliefs About Age Affect Our Workplaces?

Despite their inaccuracy, people’s beliefs have critical implications for workplace interactions.  In one laboratory experiment, we asked undergraduate students to train another person on a computer task using Google’s chat function. Another undergraduate was asked to listen to the training and then perform the task.  We varied whether each person — the trainer and the trainee — appeared to be old (approximately 53) or young (approximately 23) using photographs and voice-modifying software.


We found that stereotypes about older people’s ability to learn new tasks interfered with the training they received. When trainers believed that they were teaching an older person how to do the computer task, they had lower expectations and provided worse training than when they believed they were teaching a young person. These results demonstrate that poorer training is a direct result of age stereotypes. The potential consequences of these findings are alarming, as inferior training can result in reduced learning and ultimately interfere with employees’ job performance.

Moreover, people’s beliefs about what others think about their age group — their meta-stereotypes — can also interfere with their work behavior. A recently published studyexamined how people react to meta-stereotypes over the course of a work week.  As expected, sometimes people react with a sense of challenge (“Oh yeah? I’ll show them!”) and sometimes they report more threat (“Oh no, what if I live up to this negative expectation?”).

Importantly, these reactions can also impact interpersonal behaviors at work. Both threats and challenges led to conflict at work (things like arguing or not getting along with colleagues) and avoidance behaviors (things like keeping to oneself and avoiding interacting with others).

We also considered the implications of meta-stereotypes for mentoring relationships in law and in medicine in another study that we recently presented at a conference with our colleagues. Surveys of mentor-protégé pairs suggested that protégé attempts to overcome meta-stereotypes sometimes had a negative effect on their relationships. Specifically, when protégés tried to deemphasize their youth by appearing or acting older, their mentors were less supportive.

So What Should Managers Do?

If there are not real and consistent differences between people of different age groups, but these stereotyping and meta-stereotyping processes end up creating artificial generational divides, what is a manager supposed to do?

First, openly talking about these stereotypes and meta-stereotypes can be a great first step. Combining this effort with practices in perspective-taking (e.g., role-taking, role reversal exercises), cooperating (e.g., emphasizing the advantages of working with an age-diverse group), and sharing of stories among age-diverse employees can help people recognize and possibly call attention to these processes when they creep into the workplace.

Another strategy that can be effective might be emphasizing shared goals. By doing so, both older and younger people can see themselves as part of the same team working toward the same outcome. Indeed, focusing on commonalities or a common directioncan reduce perceptions of “us” versus “them” and can create or reinforce a sense of “we.” 

Finally, managers would benefit from recognizing that employees often change over time due to varying priorities, demands, experiences, and physical capacities. These changes can take many forms. For instance, research has shown that people face different types of work-family conflict at different stages of their lives, from young adulthood through middle adulthood and into late adulthood. However, not every employee within the same age group will have the same experiences at the same exact time. Therefore, engaging in an ongoing and open dialogue with employees to discuss shifting needs can help managers keep their hard-working and experienced employees engaged, happy, and productively collaborating with others for the long haul.

Eden King is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Rice University. She is pursuing a program of research that seeks to guide the equitable and effective management of diverse organizations. She has also partnered with organizations to improve diversity climate, increase fairness in selection systems, and to design and implement diversity training programs.

Lisa Finkelstein is a professor in the social and industrial-organizational psychology area of the psychology department at Northern Illinois University and a fellow of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She conducts research on diversity, stereotypes, and stigma at work, including age, disability, body weight, and gender, among others. She also studies mentoring relationships, high potential designation, and humor at work.

Courtney Thomas is a doctoral candidate in the Social-Industrial/Organizational program at Northern Illinois University. She conducts research on person perception related to topics like stereotyping, stigma, and diversity. While her research mainly focuses on the aging realm of diversity and inclusion, she also conducts research on other stigmatized identities like disability and obesity.

Abby Corrington is a fifth-year graduate student who spent time in the corporate world prior to joining the Industrial/Organizational Ph.D. program at Rice University. She conducts research on the different ways that people express and remediate discrimination. She has received several grants for her work and has published in Journal of Vocational Behavior and Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion.


When Is It OK to Tell a Well-Meaning Lie?

A manager gives an employee overly-positive feedback to boost their confidence. A doctor gives a patient a too-rosy prognosis to foster hope. A government official conceals a security threat to prevent widespread panic.

These are relatively understandable scenarios in which an individual tells a lie because they think they are helping someone. In each case, however, it’s unclear whether the lie actually makes the recipients better off. Employees could benefit from honest criticism in order to improve; patients may benefit from a candid prognosis; citizens might take actions to make themselves less vulnerable to security threats.

Given the ethical issues surrounding deception, how can one be sure when telling a well-meaning lie is the right thing to do — and when it’s not?

Some would argue that deceiving others is never ethical, especially in today’s corporate climate. As reports of fraud, bribery, and privacy breaches abound, “transparency” is becoming a watchword in organizations. If an act of deception were uncovered in public, it could result in a severe blow to your reputation.

However, day-to-day life presents what comedian Jerry Seinfeld calls “must-lie situations” — or, at the least, situations in which people lie precisely because they believe it is the ethical thing to do. For example, if someone asks how they look on their wedding day, the only acceptable answer is “You look incredible,” regardless of whether this is true.

But what if your boss asked you for your opinion on an under-developed presentation that they had to deliver at an important meeting that is weeks away? This is a very different situation. True, it might cause you both discomfort in the moment if you tell your boss that you think the presentation is not in great shape. However, there is enough time before the meeting for you to save your boss from embarrassment if the presentation were to fall flat. To your boss (and perhaps the company), preventing this embarrassment later on could be more important than avoiding the discomfort of receiving criticism.

In this case, falsely telling someone that they did a great job could be considered a paternalistic lie—that is, a lie that requires the deceiver to make assumptions about whether lying is in the best interest of the person being deceived.

In our recent article published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, across seven studies with over 2,000 research participants, we find that paternalistic lies spark strong resentment from deceived parties. In several experiments, participants were paired with partners (“communicators”) who had the opportunity to lie or tell the truth in order to help participants earn different prizes. For example, in one of the studies, communicators had to report the outcome of a coin flip, but could do so honestly or dishonestly. If the communicator was honest about the coin flip outcome, the participant would earn one ticket for a $10 lottery that would be conducted that day; if the communicator lied, the participant would earn one ticket for a $30 lottery three months from that day.

This choice — a chance at $10 now or $30 later — requires the communicator to make assumptions about what’s best for the partner when deciding whether to lie. It models a number of real-world situations, such as when a financial adviser might lie to a client for the purpose of nudging them to save money for the future.

Although it’s well-intended, lying in this context is paternalistic, since it assumes that the client would prefer future savings over available cash in the present. We found that communicators who told lies in this context were viewed as less moral than communicators who told the truth. Three specific inferences underlie this judgment. In particular, participants believed that paternalistic liars did not have good intentions, that paternalistic liars were violating their autonomy, and that paternalistic liars misunderstood their preferences. In another study, we also found that participants were actually less satisfied with the prize they received when it resulted from a paternalistic lie.

Importantly, not all lies bring about these negative judgments. In our experiments, some participants learned that a communicator’s honest or dishonest statement influenced how many lottery tickets the participant earned, rather than which lottery they were entered into. In this case, there was no ambiguity about the fact that lying would help the participant—anyone would rather receive more lottery tickets than fewer. Indeed, in this situation, lying was not seen as less moral than truth-telling, and did not elicit the same negative inferences.

Our research yielded some specific steps you can take to determine whether your lies are paternalistic (and thus, whether they will be welcomed or met with resentment). To determine whether your lies will be seen as paternalistic, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Can you safely assume that most people would be better off with the outcome associated with lying, rather than the truth? If not, tell the truth.

Sometimes the answer to this question will be obvious. Believing you look attractive on your wedding day is clearly better than believing you do not, and earning two lottery tickets is better than earning one lottery ticket. In these cases, lying is likely to be appreciated.

In many other cases, the answer will not be as obvious. If you’re not sure whether most people prefer the outcome associated with lying, consider asking a group of people. If there is disagreement, tell the truth.

  1. Do you know whether the person with whom you are talking prefers comfort over candor in this context? If not, lean towards candor.

Remember, it’s possible to learn people’s preferences simply by asking them. Consider asking your colleagues and family members the type of feedback they appreciate, and when and why they might appreciate constructive criticism over comfort. For example, you can ask your significant other whether they really want to know how they look when they ask you; and a doctor can ask their patients how much they want to know about their prognosis, or whether they would like to focus conversations on their treatment options.

We ran several studies examining paternalistic lies in close and professional relationships and found that people were more comfortable with a communicator’s deception if it was informed by an explicit conversation about a person’s preferences. For example, in one study, we found that people had a much higher regard for a doctor who offered a patient false hope when the doctor had previously discussed the patient’s preferences with the patient, versus when the doctor simply assumed these preferences.

  1. Are you confident that the target of the lie knows that you are looking out for their best interest? If not, any attempt to justify the lie may be ineffective. 

When caught lying (paternalistically or otherwise), people often defend themselves by saying they lied to protect the other person. But before lying to protect someone’s interests or feelings, ask yourself not only whether you are lying to protect them, but also whether that person would believe your lie was well-intended if they found out. In several studies, we found that people were not likely to believe paternalistic lies were well-intended, and reacted poorly to these lies even when the liar communicated good intentions. However, people were more likely to believe that paternalistic lies were well-intended when they were told by people who knew them well or had reputations as helpful, kind people.

Even though paternalistic lies are often well-intentioned, if uncovered, they will usually backfire. Lying may be helpful when there is no ambiguity about the resulting benefits for those on the receiving end. But in most other circumstances, honesty is the best policy.

Adam Eric Greenberg is an assistant professor of marketing at Bocconi University.

Emma E. Levine is an assistant professor at behavioral science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Matthew Lupoli is an assistant professor of management at Deakin University.



How to Collaborate with a Perfectionist

It can be draining to work with a perfectionist. While it’s great to work with colleagues who care about the quality of their work, perfectionists take it a step further. Their unrelenting standards can result in unnecessary stress, conflict, and missed deadlines due to a failure to prioritize the big picture over the details. If you try to remind them that “perfect is the enemy of finished,” they may see you as a corner-cutter. Perfectionism is common enough that we’ll all eventually encounter perfectionists in the workplace. So how can you collaborate more productively with them? I have five suggestions, drawn from psychological research into perfectionism and also, anxiety, which is typically what underlies perfectionism. If you’re a perfectionist yourself, you’ll learn tips here for how you can create smoother, stronger working relationships.

Figure Out Which Type of Perfectionist You’re Dealing With

In my experience, there are two types of perfectionists. Avoidant perfectionists have trouble beginning tasks. Deadlines trigger their anxiety about doing things perfectly, and therefore, they drag their feet when starting a new project. On the other hand, Obsessive perfectionists tends to struggle to complete tasks.

Both kinds of perfectionists have trouble prioritizing, and struggle to allocate their time according to what’s most important. Both types also share a habit of expanding the scope of projects. But how you deal with these traits may differ according to the type you’re dealing with.

For people who struggle to get started, you can help by clarifying the task and breaking it down into smaller components. For people who have a hard time finishing, you can focus on prioritizing the elements of the task, and reminding them of prior decisions about its scope.

Since perfectionists often have difficulty setting logical limits on tasks themselves, they may find it very helpful to have someone else do this with them. If you have a respectful and trusting relationship with your colleague, limit setting can improve a relationship rather than create tension. This is particularly true when perfectionism stems from anxiety.

Don’t Internalize Unrealistic Expectations

Consider this scenario: Your perfectionist teammate wants you to update a 15-column tracking spreadsheet every week, when a five-column sheet is all you need, and realistically it’s only going to be used once a month.

Perfectionists tend to equate time with quality, so you’ll need to be particularly thoughtful and diplomatic in explaining why you don’t want to spend that much time on this project. The goal is to explain the opportunity cost of spending excess time filling in ten marginally useful columns of data when you could be serving the company in more productive ways. Be specific and detailed about what those “more productive ways” are, and clear and concrete in explaining why those additional 10 columns won’t be useful.

If this conversation is a difficult one, don’t take it personally. Try to have the mindset that every individual, including you, has their own flaws. Tensions in the workplace are normal. A challenging encounter doesn’t reflect negatively on you or your colleague as people. The consequences of letting yourself get worked up and attaching unnecessary emotional baggage to the situation will be more harmful than productive. 

Find out how your perfectionist colleague prefers to receive feedback. Some will prefer to receive it via email so they have a chance to privately process any initial defensive reactions they have. Self-aware perfectionists typically come-around to a constructive reaction once they’ve had time for their initial strong responses to feedback subside. 

Support Processes that Help the Team Focus on the Big Picture

A defining feature of problematic perfectionism is losing sight of the big picture. While it’s the team leader’s job to develop processes and keep everyone on the team focused on key priorities, there are some things that anyone at any level can do to try and help. During team meetings, you might ask:

  • Is there a simpler way we can achieve our goal?
  • Can we shrink down the amount of time we’re spending?
  • What’s the opportunity cost of spending extra time on this versus another task?

For projects where you’re working with a perfectionist, you can also try creating a basic checklist to help the group stay organized, relieve anxieties surrounding to-dos, and ensure that nothing is being overlooked. Hewing to a clear decision-making process, and documenting what decisions have been made, should also help things move forward.


You can encourage the use of heuristics for making decisions that help everyone in the team to quickly and effectively prioritize, like, “If an opportunity is worth less than $X, we’ll automatically pass it up,” or “If a project ends up taking more than X hours to complete, we’ll let our manager know.”

Set Boundaries

A perfectionist’s unrealistic expectations can unintentionally make their teammates feel like their time is not being valued. Let’s take the example of a hard-driving perfectionist who sends you an excessive number of emails — each one with a different question or suggestion — when he’s feeling overwhelmed.

It might be tempting to ignore these emails, or even respond in a curt way, but instead try setting boundaries.

For example, you might choose not to respond to your perfectionist colleague’s evening or weekend emails; or you might decide that you’ll respond to all of their messages once per day, but that’s it. If low priority group emails are being responded to on weekends or late at night, you may need to institute a team policy or guideline about this.

It’s important to recognize that every individual will engage in some self-sabotaging behaviors that, in turn, affect the rest of the team. But by developing boundaries, you will create a culture that encourages personal growth.

Enhance Feelings of Security Through Mutual Influence

Mutual influence is when a teammate allows you to influence their way of thinking and vice versa. It is an important factor that helps any relationship feel more secure. If a perfectionist’s habits irritate you, try compromising. Identify elements of their routine that may be useful to incorporate into your own. If you expect someone else to bend to your way, then you need to show that you’re willing to bend to theirs.

When people feel a sense of relationship security, it’s much easier for them to receive critical feedback. There are several ways to help a perfectionist colleague feel more secure. Show your perfectionist teammates that you think of them highly, and believe in their talent and capabilities. Perfectionists need to know that your general view of them is positive, and that small mistakes, like making a typo, isn’t going to impact your overall confidence in them. When a perfectionist trusts that you will provide feedback without judgment, he or she is able to more easily overcome emotional roadblocks and perform better.

The relationship dynamic will be different between an employee and their boss versus a relationship between two peers. However, for both parties to feel secure, there should be elements of mutual influence, including being open and responsive. Perfectionists have many strengths and can make amazing teammates. Make sure you take advantage of your opportunity to learn from their strengths.

By understanding some of the common habits of perfectionists you can better understand their perspective and struggles. In doing so, you open the door to a healthy relationship in which you can learn from one another and build a more harmonious work environment.

Alice Boyes, PhD is a former clinical psychologist turned writer and is author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.


How People with Different Conflict Styles Can Work Together

  • Category Teams

When it comes to conflict, most of us have a default approach: we either tend to avoid it or seek it out. The avoiders among us shy away from disagreements, value harmony and positive relationships, and will often try to placate people or even change the topic. Avoiders don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or disrupt team dynamics. Seekers (and I’m one of them!) seem eager to engage in disagreements. They tend to care about directness and honesty, lose their patience when others aren’t being equally direct, and don’t mind ruffling feathers.

Neither style is better or worse, and your default style is probably due to several factors: your past experiences with conflict, the conventions of the culture you’re from or work in, the organizational context, and even gender norms. And while each of us generally has a preferred approach, it’s rare for a person to avoid or seek out conflict all the time. More likely, you adjust your style based on the context, with whom you’re having the conflict, and other things going on in your office. For example, you might be a seeker with your mom and an avoider with your boss.

 Still, it’s useful to know what your natural tendency is and, when you get into a conflict with someone else, to put some thought into the other person’s style. If you’re a seeker and the other person is an avoider, how should you handle the situation? And is all hope of reaching a resolution lost if you’re both avoiders?

Knowing how the other person typically reacts in a tense situation is useful information. So assess your coworker’s style, if you’re not already familiar with it. Consider whom you’re dealing with. How does he typically communicate and how does he prefer to be communicated with? Is she more of a straight shooter who tells it like it is, or does she tend to beat around the bush? If you frequently work with the person you’re having the conflict with, you may already be familiar with their style. If you rarely interact with the person, you’ll have to do some digging. It may be that you’re fighting with an overseas colleague whom you see in person only at annual meetings, or your conflict may be with a manager in a different department who sits in another building. It’s best to know something about the person rather than fighting in a vacuum.

Here are a few ways to assess the other person’s style:

Look for patterns. Whether or not you know your counterpart well, play the role of observer. Ho do they handle a tense discussion in a meeting? What’s the look on their face when other people are disagreeing? Do they like people to cut to the chase and lay out just the facts or do they want the complete picture with every gory detail? What have you observed about their communication style?

Get input from others. You might ask a colleague or two for input into your coworker’s personality. Don’t go around grilling others about them, but ask people to confirm or deny your own observations. Say something like, “I noticed Jim flew off the handle in that meeting. Is that typical?” or “I saw Katerina avoid engaging with Tomas when he questioned whether her figures were right. Did you see the same thing?” Obviously, you have to trust the person you’re asking — you don’t want your colleague to find out you’re snooping on them.

Ask directly. It’s not always advisable to come out and ask: “How do you like to address conflict?” That can be awkward — and few people will be prepared to answer the question. Instead, share your own preferences as a way to start the conversation: “You might have noticed that I don’t shy away from arguments, and don’t like to beat around the bush.” You could also share tactful observations about what you’ve noticed about your counterpart. “Based on how you responded to Corinne’s questioning in this morning’s meeting, it seems as if you prefer to steer away from conflict. Is that right?”

Once you have a good sense of their style, you can make a more informed choice about how to handle the disagreement. You’ll want to consider how your styles interact. If you’re both seekers, can you expect an all-out brawl? If you’re both avoiders, should you forget the idea of directly addressing the conflict? Let’s go through each of the possible pairings and look at what typically happens and how you can best approach the situation:

You’re both avoiders

What typically happens:

  • Both of you lean toward doing nothing.
  • You may tamp down feelings that could explode later on.

What to do:

  • One of you needs to take the lead.
  • Say directly, “I know neither of us likes conflict, but instead of ignoring the problem, what can we do about it?”
  • Do your best to draw the other person out in a sensitive, thoughtful way.
  • If things get tough, don’t shy away. You’ll need to fight your natural instinct in this case.

You’re both seekers

What typically happens:

  • Neither of you is afraid to say what’s on your mind.
  • The discussion can easily turn contentious.
  • In the heat of the moment, you might end up saying things you don’t actually believe.
  • You both feel disrespected.

What to do:

  • Since you’ll both be eager to address the situation, take extra time to prepare for the conversation.
  • Know that you’re likely to feel impatient, and schedule your discussion in a way that allows you both to take breaks.
  • Be ready — things may get heated. Suggest a coffee break or a walk or a change of scenery to help even out emotions.

You’re a seeker and your counterpart is an avoider

What typically happens:

  • You tend to bulldoze your counterpart into agreeing with you.
  • Your counterpart may act passive aggressively to get their point across.

What to do:

  • Ask the person to participate actively in the conversation — not hide their opinions.
  • Don’t be a bully.
  • Be patient with the pace of the conversation.

You’re an avoider and they’re a seeker

What typically happens:

  • You might be tempted to play the role of “good guy” and go along with what your counterpart wants.
  • You might get trampled by your counterpart’s requests.

What to do:


  • Explicitly ask for what you need: “To have a productive conversation, I need you to be patient with me and watch the tone and volume of your voice.”
  • Earn the seeker’s respect by being direct and to the point.
  • Don’t signal disrespect, which is likely to set off the seeker.

Whatever your situation, remember that your goal is to ultimately solve the conflict, not judge someone’s style. Avoid saying something like, “We’ve got a problem here because it seems as if you don’t know how to discuss difficult issues.” Instead, have compassion for the other person — and yourself — and take into account what you know about both of your tendencies to navigate the situation thoughtfully and carefully.

Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and the author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict at Work. She writes and speaks about workplace dynamics. Follow her on Twitter at @amyegallo.


The Problem with Saying “My Door Is Always Open”

If you are in an influential position, you have probably said words to the effect of “My door is always open.” You likely meant this declaration very genuinely. You might well feel that you are a pretty approachable sort of person and that others feel comfortable coming to you with their issues and their ideas.

This may be true.

But it probably isn’t.

Leaders often have an inflated idea of how easy it is for others to speak honestly to them. Our two-year research study, including interviews with over 60 senior executives, as well as workshops and case studies, illuminates a glaring blind spot: We simply don’t appreciate how risky it can feel for others to speak up.

This is because, if we are in a powerful position, we often take power for granted. As a member of a privileged in-group, we forget what it is like to be in the less privileged out-group.

Consider the phrase “My door is always open.” It contains a number of assumptions. First, people should meet you on your territory, rather than the other way around. Second, you have the luxury of a door. Third, you can choose when to close or open it.

These details are small but important. Organizational systems contain many subtle codes that encourage employees to conform. Perhaps the most obvious, one that breeds considerable cynicism, is when a powerful person tells people to challenge him…and then punishes those who do. Sam Goldwyn, the legendary American film producer, referred to this when he famously said: “I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their job.”

This seeming contradiction is alive and well in leaders today. When we interviewed the CEO of a global company, she enthusiastically agreed, saying, “I want people to be who they are.” Barely pausing for breath, she went on to explain, “But I do have a little list in my head of people who don’t fit.”

Most of us are pretty good at sensing danger. We know whether the person we are speaking to “has a little list,” and we sensibly stay silent. Such silence is a dangerous thing for any organization and any leader.

We know all the dangers of silence. If your employees are full of ideas about how you can do a better job for the customer, or get a better deal from a supplier, you need to know. If people cannot speak up to you, then you will be unaware of issues that could bring your team, your targets, and even your organization to its knees. An examination of the emissions scandal at VW, the retail account scandal at Wells Fargo, and numerous others is testament to how that can play out in the extreme.

For leaders, none of this is, or should be, news. Most leaders know they need to be more accessible, more conversational. And so executives agree to take part in the Friday-lunchtime-pizza-with-the-team sessions and say again and again that “My door is always open.” Then they wonder (occasionally with some relief) why people aren’t coming through it very often.

So how do you, as a leader, acknowledge power differences and genuinelyencourage others to speak up to you? Our research suggests that you need to ask questions in five areas:

First, are you honestly interested in other people’s opinions? And if you are, whose opinions are you most interested in hearing, and whose are you biased against? What data do you listen to most, and what are you largely deaf to (financial data, data about people, emotions)? Being genuinely curious about other perspectives requires a humility that can be in short supply as you head up the organizational hierarchy. As the CEO of one company admitted to us, “I expect that my ego sometimes prevents me hearing stuff I should be listening to.” Before you conclude that you are sure you don’t have a problem in this area, it is useful to check by asking yourself, “How do I know that I have a reputation for being open to changing my mind?”

Second, have you considered how risky it feels for others to speak up to you? You can investigate this more deeply by reflecting on how you tend to respond when challenged by people. It may well be that on the previous 10 occasions you received challenge with interest and admirable attentiveness, but on the eleventh you’d had a bad day and just couldn’t stop yourself from interrupting and grumpily disagreeing with the person. The eleventh occasion is the story everyone will tell around the office. And that story is the one that will live on for years. And it probably is the case that you judge people when they speak up (which is simply human), and it probably is the case that you also happen to be the one who determines the result of their performance appraisals. So it is you who will need to be extra vigilant of the signals you are sending out when someone has built up the courage to speak up. And you have to apologize publicly when you have a bad day (as everyone does) and cut somebody off at the knees.

Third, how aware are you of the political game being played? Politics is an inherent part of organizational life; personal agendas play out all the time in what we choose to say to one another. This is especially the case when you occupy an influential role. As one of our interviewees put it, “When they hear you’re the CEO…they say what they think you want to hear, which can be very frustrating.” Enabling others to speak up means understanding why this person might be saying what they are saying (or why they are staying silent) and making an informed choice about whether to surface that agenda, whether to gently lower the stakes so the person speaks up, or whether to widen the circle of individuals you listen to and include those less concerned with “playing the game.”

Fourth, what labels do people apply to you, and what labels do you apply to others that define the rules of what can be said? When we meet with others, we label them, consciously or unconsciously. For example, we badge others as “CEO,” “consultant,” “woman,” “young,” “new,” or “sales,” and these labels mean different things to different people in different contexts. But inevitably they are all markers of status, and status governs the unwritten rules around who can speak and who gets heard. Seeing unwritten advantage in action is not easy, particularly if you are fortunate enough to be in the in-group, but it does not mean we shouldn’t strive to become more aware and to mitigate any detrimental influence this labelling might have.

Finally, what specifically do you need to do and say to enable others to speak? This might include anything: reducing status difference by choosing to dress more casually, introducing a “red card” at executive committee meetings to ensure someone has the ability to challenge you, or carefully holding your tendency for extroversion in check so that others get a moment to speak up. These tactics can only be built on a solid foundation of self-awareness, informed by the responses to the four questions above.

If you are wondering why others aren’t speaking up more, first ask yourself how you are inadvertently silencing them.

Megan Reitz is Associate Professor of Leadership and Dialogue at Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School. She is the author of Dialogue in Organizations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Previously, she was a consultant with Deloitte; surfed the dot-com boom with; and worked in strategy consulting for The Kalchas Group, now the strategic arm of Computer Science Corporation.

 John Higgins is an independent researcher, coach, consultant and author. He has published widely with the Ashridge Executive Masters and Doctorate in Organizational Change, most recently with The Change Doctors: Re-Imagining Organizational Practice (Libri, 2014).




The Right Way to Start a Meeting

We all know there’s a price to pay for a making bad first impression: A limp handshake conveys low confidence; a wrinkled suit makes you seem lazy; oversharing comes across as emotional instability. But do you ever think about the first impression your meetings make? Frequently restarting meetings for stragglers sends the message that participants have more control than you do. Issues opened for discussion with no clear purpose get hijacked by participants with a clearer agenda than yours. Monologues validate everyone’s fears that your meeting is going to be about as valuable (and as scintillating) as watching an hour of C-SPAN.

If you want to have a more productive meeting, focus on a strong opening. A good start to a meeting is like an overture: It sets the tone, introduces the major themes, and provides a preview of what you can expect. Here are some best practices for starting your next meeting:

Make the purpose of the meeting clear. It’s amazing how much time gets invested in meetings where no one really knows why the meeting is happening. Remember to state the purpose of the meeting in the agenda and then reiterate it at the start of the meeting. Differentiate between idea generation sessions and decision-making forums; separate meetings driving long-term strategic thinking from those driving short-term action and accountability. (For more on how to create fit-for-purpose meetings, see “A Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Better Meetings.”) While you’re at it, talk about what the meeting is not about. “This is our monthly capacity-building session. We’re working on the business today, not working in it. Any tactical issues need to be tabled until Wednesday’s ops review.”

Be specific about the purpose of each agenda item. Although the types of agenda items in any one meeting should be similar, they might be at different stages and therefore require a very different conversation. Before each agenda item, take a moment to clarify the goal. If your goal is idea generation, say so, and facilitate the discussion appropriately. Don’t allow action-oriented team members to converge too quickly if you’re trying to foster original thinking. In contrast, if an item requires a decision, be clear on the decision criteria and the process. Specify whether everyone gets to vote or whether one person owns the decision and is looking for recommendations. “Barb owns this decision, so I’m going to ask Barb to halt the discussion when she has what she needs to make the call.”

Ask people to filter their contributions. Another way to set the tone at the start of a meeting is to tell people what level of engagement you expect from each of them. You can cite the MIT research that found that a team’s collective intelligence is predicted by how equally team members participate. Ask participants to modulate their contributions (either up or down) so that they take up about as much airtime as everyone else. Ask that participants refrain from simply agreeing with one another. You can say: “I’m looking for different perspectives and new ways of thinking. I’m going to move on if we’re all in agreement.”

Reiterate any important ground rules. If your team has spent time developing ground rules (which I highly recommend that you do), use the time at the beginning of the meeting to remind everyone about any that are still aspirational. Too many teams go to the effort of defining ground rules and then never speak of them again. Don’t overdo it, but pick one ground rule that you think will be particularly salient for your discussion. For example, say, “I know we’re talking about some sensitive issues today. Just a reminder that we’ve all committed to starting with a positive assumption.”

Head off passive-aggressive behavior. One reason that meetings are so abhorred is that they tend to go on and on, but don’t expose the real problems that need to be solved. Many teams use the meeting-before-the-meeting and the meeting-after-the-meeting to surface the prickly or unpopular issues. That makes the meeting itself a complete waste of time. Address the risk of passive-aggressive behavior explicitly by asking that issues be addressed in the meeting, not after it. It’s not a fail-safe approach, but calling out difficult or contentious discussions at the start of a meeting, and asking for people to share their points of view candidly, will increase the likelihood that you get the issues on the table rather than leaving them for hallway gossip later.

Decide whether to roundtable. I would be remiss if I did not weigh in on the controversial topic of roundtables. By roundtable, I mean the portion of the meeting where each participant shares a status update. Roundtables are notoriously bad for sucking up time, adding little value, and providing a platform for nervous team members to justify their paycheck. If that’s what’s happening at your roundtable, get rid of it. If, in contrast, you’re willing to redirect your roundtable to selectively address issues related to the agenda topic, then have at it. Just be strict on the time limits and stop anyone who goes off topic: “It’s our quarterly strategic meeting, so the topic of the roundtable today is the one trend that is either exciting or frightening you.”

It’s likely true that you attend too many meetings. It’s even more likely that you attend too many bad meetings. You can usually tell within the first two minutes whether the meeting is going to be a good use of your time. If you’re running the show, make sure your meeting makes a great first impression by focusing everyone on the unique value they’re supposed to be adding, emphasizing diversity of thought, and filtering out time-sucks. Do that and you’ll find that your meetings earn a sterling reputation and actually help get work done.

Liane Davey is the cofounder of 3COze Inc. She is the author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done and a coauthor of Leadership Solutions: The Pathway to Bridge the Leadership Gap. Follow her on Twitter at @LianeDavey.




40 Years of Research Proves Women Are Better Managers Than Men Because They Tend to Have This Crucial Skill

To create highly engaged workforces you'll have to focus on these four keys areas:

In a Gallup report based on over four decades of research, including the analysis of 27 million employees' responses, female managers outperform their male counterparts when it comes to driving employee engagement. Gallup defines engaged employeesas those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.
Regarding the day-to-day practical evidence, the study found that if you reported to a female manager, you were more likely to reply "yes" to the following statements:
  • "There is someone at work who encourages my development."
  • "In the last six months, someone has talked to me about my progress," and,
  • "In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work."

Why is this such a big deal? The main reason is that 87 percent of employees worldwide report being disengaged at work. On the flip side, companies that have engaged employees outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share. That's a lot of uncapitalized potential.

Let's take a look at the four components of employee engagement that gave women an advantage over their male colleagues.


One of the quickest ways to create confusion and stifle productivity is to be ambiguous about expectations. A major indicator of an engaged employee is ownership over one's role, and it's awfully difficult to take control without baseline responsibilities. To ensure that your employee is crystal clear about their position, make sure you:

  1. Have a job description review and discuss areas of importance, key contributions (what tasks affect others), the potential for impact and areas of accountability.
  2. Lay out the consequences, in a friendly manner, and be consistent. This includes both the positive and negative side-effects of your employee's performance.
  3. Establish clear metrics, key performance indicators, and behavior standards. Everyone wants to understand how they will be evaluated.
  4. Clarify areas where your employee can be autonomous.
  5. Ensure all process based capabilities are handed down. AKA, department "know-how", training and standard operating procedures.

Word to the wise, be careful about assigning accountability without authority. It's frustrating, as an employee, to be held accountable for something that you can't manage or make a decision on.


Great managers understand that engagement is an outcome of meaningful relationships. What constitutes a meaningful relationship? Here are five characteristics from the Mind Tools Editorial Team.

  1. Trust --If you could pick a cornerstone for a good relationship, trust would definitely be the best option. It enables employees to be open, honest and transparent. You'd be surprised how much energy new employees can conserve (and redeploy) by not having to constantly watch their back and question everything they say/do.
  2. Mutual Respect -- You can't expect respect without giving it first. We must value everyone's thoughts, ideas, and input. Then, it will be much easier to develop solutions based on collective insight -- a key to engaging your employees in your vision/mission. People don't take direction and learn from those whom they don't respect.
  3. Mindfulness -- We must take responsibility for our own actions, words, emotions (or lack thereof) and the effects that they can have on those around us. Employees are products of their environments. Make sure that you're mindful of the one you're creating.
  4. Welcoming Diversity -- "People with good relationships not only accept diverse people and opinions, but they welcome them. For instance, when your friends and colleagues offer different opinions from yours, you take the time to consider what they have to say, and factor their insights into your decision-making." (Mind Tools)
  5. Open Communication -- This one is pretty simple: the more we communicate with our employees, the richer our relationships will be.


In efforts to automate and systematize our work, we've become obsessed with computing outcomes and collecting data to drive decisions. Don't get me wrong, data is necessary and there is definitely a place for it, but it does not replace the need for leadership.

Unfortunately, this obsession with measuring throughput and efficiency has created mechanistic management crutches. News flash, people don't thrive in standardized environments. Our employees are naturally different and diverse. Forcing them to conform stifles creativity and limits leaders to the role of a delivery system. Instead, focus on creating a human system. One that is characterized by team harmony, respect and caring for employees' welfare. Then, watch as these humanistic conditions unearth your employee's engagement.


The feeling of stagnation is terrifying. Help your employees stay relevant and challenged by investing in their development. If you don't, others will.

It may seem like engagement is just another buzz word that HR departments throw around to create more work for managers. However, this Gallup report proves that higher levels of engagement produce higher-performing teams. Gentlemen, if we want to even the odds, then we must focus on creating a culture within our teams that breeds engagement. 

Michael Schneider/Apr 19, 2017


A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful than an Email

Imagine you need people to donate to a cause you care about. How do you get as many people as possible to donate? You could send an email to 200 of your friends, family members, and acquaintances.  Or you could ask a few of the people you encounter in a typical day—face-to-face—to donate. Which method would mobilize more people for your cause?

Despite the reach of email, asking in person is the significantly more effective approach; you need to ask six people in person to equal the power of a 200-recipient email blast. Still, most people tend to think the email ask will be more effective.

In research Mahdi Roghanizad of Western University and I conducted, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we have found that people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.

In one study, we had 45 participants ask 450 strangers (10 strangers each) to complete a brief survey. All participants made the exact same request following the exact same script; however, half of the participants made their requests over email, while the other half asked face-to-face.

We found that people were much more likely to agree to complete a survey when they were asked in-person as opposed to over email. These findings are consistent with previous research showing that people are more likely to comply with requests in person than over email.

However, prior to making their requests, we asked participants in each condition to predict how many of the 10 strangers they asked would agree to fill out the survey. Participants in the face-to-face condition guessed that on average 5 out of 10 people would agree.  Participants in the email condition guessed that on average 5.5 out of 10 people would agree.  This difference was not statistically significant; participants who made requests over email felt essentially just as confident about the effectiveness of their requests as those who made their requests face-to-face, even though face-to-face requests were 34 times more effective than emailed ones.

Why do people think of email as being equally effective when it is so clearly not? In our studies, participants were highly attuned to their own trustworthiness and the legitimacy of the action they were asking others to take when they sent their emails. Anchored on this information, they failed to anticipate what the recipients of their emails were likely to see: an untrustworthy email asking them to click on a suspicious link.

Indeed, when we replicated our results in a second study we found the nonverbal cues requesters conveyed during a face-to-face interaction made all the difference in how people viewed the legitimacy of their requests, but requesters were oblivious to this fact.

If your office runs on email and text-based communication, it’s worth considering whether you could be a more effective communicator by having conversations in person. It is often more convenient and comfortable to use text-based communication than to approach someone in-person, but if you overestimate the effectiveness of such media, you may regularly—and unknowingly—choose inferior means of influence.

Vanessa K. Bohns is an assistant professor of Organizational Behavior at the ILR School at Cornell University.


Harvard Business Review: