Work

What's the best way to impress other people?

Pretty much anything other than self-promotion. There's a lot of evidence that when people toot their own horns it tends to backfire. People will judge them as arrogant, narcissistic, and especially as insecure. They know that if you were really amazing you wouldn't have to work so hard to tell other people how amazing you are. Research suggests that instead of promoting yourself it's more effective if other people promote you because after all you're not a credible judge of your own abilities and accomplishments. But if other people think highly of you and they're willing to talk about that that can go a long way. And so, if you're in a situation where you feel like you have to self-promote, then it's worth asking, "OK, over my career, who are the people that I've really impressed?" "Who are not only willing but maybe even excited to sing my praises." And then, "how can I invite them to do that in an honest and genuine way?"

If you're interviewing someone for a job, or just considering working with someone new, how do you get them to tell the truth about their weaknesses?

I have three favorite ways to get people to answer the weakness question honestly. The first one is to ask, "What's a piece of constructive criticism that you've gotten recently?" And that way they can tell you not just what they're bad at, but also how they're working to improve.

A second option comes from a former student Caitlin Souther who likes to ask people "What's a positive quality that you don't possess?" And what's nice about that is it just reframes the weakness as not something so horrible. And then a third approach is to ask people, "How would others describe your weaknesses?" And that gives them a chance to show that they're not just self-aware but they're conscious of how other people perceive them and you might end up checking the references and you'll find out what those people say and so they might as well score points for knowing what other people would say about them.

When a coworker is struggling, what should you not say to them?

Well the most common, I think, habit is to do what you do in every other situation which is to relate like, "Oh I also love the color blue" but that usually ends up meaning that if you say like, "hey, I have cancer."

Then suddenly they're like, "Oh, my aunt had cancer!" Dot dot dot...

-ouch.

"And then, she..." You know, you're like stuck in this terrible conversation about outcomes, when really all you meant to do is build the bridge. So usually you really don't have to offer them anything from your own life. Just make a little space and say, "I'm so sorry to hear that."

Leave a little minute and see if they want to take the off ramp because usually people just kind of want to talk about reality programming or like how much they hate their suite mates. So it's just like give them the off ramp and they'll probably take it.

-Any other favorite suggestions?

I think that deep desire to explain other people's suffering is so normal. So like, "Oh was it something you ate or maybe it's in your family" just all the kind of free association that people usually do. Usually someone who's struggling kind of doesn't need an explanation.

They maybe need like cookies the next day and just a little bit of space to get their own lives together with a little peace.

-So it sounds like you want to avoid conversational narcissism. If I'm trying to comfort you, it's not about me. It's not my job to explain why you're suffering.

Yeah and a gifted presence is kind of more powerful than people realize it is. Like also just presence, man. I love it when someone is like, "Oh hey I got you this food." I'm like, "Great, we're now best friends."

-Awesome.

Well I'm here with Arthur Brooks an economist whose viral Atlantic article says maybe.

Yeah so I wrote this article, and The Atlantic titled it, "Your professional decline is coming much sooner thank you think" Sounds pretty bad. I have to say, but I'd meant it as a way that we can actually look forward to that back part of our careers.

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When it comes to their work habits, are Millennials lazier, more entitles, and more selfish than other generations?

There is survey evidence that Millennials score slightly higher on narcissism than other generations. But is that really a generational difference? When you compare generations on anything, and you find a discrepancy, you don't know whether that's because of the birth cohort they're part of, or because of their age and life experience. And there's a psychologist, Jean Twenge, who teases those factors apart. She gets surveys done of every generation - when they were high school seniors and college seniors. So, you can compare what 18 and 21-year-old boomers said against millennials of the same age against Gen Xers of the same age.

And when you do that, you find that every generation is slightly more selfish and entitled when they're younger. Being self-focused is just an attribute of being an 18-year-old or a 21-year-old. And then as you age you tend to gain responsibility and gain concern for others. The greatest spike in generosity seems to exist right around mid-career and midlife and that I think is when you feel like you have more to give, you have less to lose and you also start to worry that if nobody helps that next generation coming into the workforce we are all going to be screwed. So I think there is hope for every young generation.

When somebody pitches a new idea with a lot of confidence, should you trust them?

It depends on where they sit in the hierarchy. In a rigorous new study, managers actually overestimated the value of their own ideas by 42%. Whereas employees underestimated the value of their own ideas by 11%. Managers were overconfident. As they gain power, they privilege their own perspectives. Whereas employees were a little under confident. They said, "Well I don't really know what I'm doing and they second guess themselves." I think that means that managers need to stop falling in love with their own ideas and start listening to the people below them.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to run an innovation tournament - a contest for new ideas. A great example comes from Dow Chemical. They could put out a call for ideas and said we're trying to save energy and reduce waste. We'll take any proposal that costs no more than $200,000 US and it has to be able to pay for itself within a year. Over a decade, they ended up investing in 575 ideas that were submitted into that tournament. And on average they saved the company 110 million U.S. dollars per year. And most of those ideas did not come from people in creative jobs. Often it was an employee on a factory floor who saw something broken and had an idea for how to fix it. But didn't run with it until the tournament was opened. And I think managers ought to run more of those contests.

Should you practice what you preach?

I'm actually going to say no, you should do the reverse. I think the danger of practicing what you preach is that you claim a set of values and then you hope that you're going to live up to those values through your actions. And if you do great you've just demonstrated integrity. But if you fall short you become a hypocrite. I think a simpler rule is to only preach things you already practice. And then there's no risk of a gap between your claims and your actions. There was a cultural critic Lionel Trilling who wrote about a distinction between authenticity and sincerity. He said authenticity was closing the gap between your inner thoughts and what you express to the outside world. But sincerity is the opposite. It's starting by paying attention to the person you claim to be and then saying internally I want to become that person. And that kind of sincerity is really easy if you're only preaching the things that you already practice.