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Dear HBR:

Work can be frustrating. How can you get along with that maddening coworker? Figure out what your unapproachable boss really wants? Motivate your demoralized team? "Dear HBR:" is here to help. With empathy, experience, and humor, veteran Harvard Business Review editors and co-hosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn explore solutions to your workplace dilemmas. Bolstered by insights from guests and academic research, they help you navigate thorny situations to find a better way forward.

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Building Trust

Could your workplace be more trusting? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of organizational psychologist Liane Davey. They talk through what to do when your new boss doesn’t trust you yet, you want to earn the trust of your subordinates, or company leaders have made employees afraid to speak up. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: Want Your Employees to Trust You? Show You Trust Them by Holly Henderson Brower, Scott Wayne Lester, and M. Audrey Korsgaard — “In short, trust begets trust. When people are trusted, they tend to trust in return. But people must feel trusted to reciprocate trust. Managers have to do more than trust employees; they need to show it. Based on our research work and time spent in companies studying trust, we’ve identified some of the most important ways managers erode trust and how they can signal it more clearly to their teams.” HBR: Cultivating Everyday Courage by Jim Detert — “Competently courageous people also work to earn the trust of those who see them as their champions. They invest in those relationships, too—engaging with people individually, taking the time to empathize with them, and helping them develop professionally.” HBR: The 3 Elements of Trust by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman — “As a leader, you want the people in your organization to trust you. And with good reason. In our coaching with leaders, we often see that trust is a leading indicator of whether others evaluate them positively or negatively. But creating that trust or, perhaps more importantly, reestablishing it when you’ve lost it isn’t always that straightforward.” HBR: The Simplest Way to Build Trust by David DeSteno — “Try it in your next negotiation. Find and emphasize something – anything – that will cause your partner to see a link between the two of you, which will form a sense of affiliation. And from that sense of affiliation — whether or not it’s objectively meaningful – comes a greater likelihood of trustworthy behavior.”


7 Mar 2019

Rank #1

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Difficult People

Do you work with a jerk? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Stanford management professor Bob Sutton, an expert in dealing with difficult co-workers. They talk through what to do when your colleague is a bully, when your boss never takes the blame, and when your direct report gets on everyone’s bad side — but still brings in the money. Send in your questions about workplace dilemmas by emailing Dan and Alison at dearhbr@hbr.org. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: An Antidote to Incivility by Christine Porath — “If you’ve dealt with a rude colleague, you probably know how hard it can be to get over it. Perhaps no feeling is more difficult to overcome than a sense of injustice. Neuroscientists have shown that memories attached to strong emotions are easier to access and more likely to be replayed, and ruminating on an incident prevents you from putting it behind you. This can cause greater insecurity, lower self-esteem, and a heightened sense of helplessness.” HBR: How to Help Someone Develop Emotional Intelligence by Annie McKee — “If one of these socially awkward or downright nasty people works directly for you, it is indeed your job to do something. They ruin work teams and destroy productivity, not to mention morale. They’re little time bombs that go off when you least expect it — sucking up your time and draining everyone’s energy. They need to change, or they need to leave.” HBR: Make Your Enemies Your Allies by Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap — “Because rivalries can be so destructive, it’s not enough to simply ignore, sidestep, or attempt to contain them. Instead, effective leaders turn rivals into collaborators—strengthening their positions, their networks, and their careers in the process. Think of these relationships not as chronic illnesses you have to endure but as wounds that must be treated in order for you to lead a healthy work life.” Book: The Asshole Survival Guide by Bob Sutton — “A study by Professor Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik found that when bullied employees banded together to fight back, authorities punished 58% of the abusers and none of the bullied employees were fired. But when employees battled alone, only 27% of the bullies were punished and 20% of the bullied employees were fired.”


22 Feb 2018

Rank #2

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Personal Rebranding

Do you need a career makeover? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Dorie Clark, the author of Reinventing You. They talk through how to change your coworkers’ perception of you, transition to a role outside your area of expertise, or be seen as a leader. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: Reinventing Your Personal Brand by Dorie Clark — “Especially in the internet era, traces of your old brand will never completely disappear—and as long as you’re thoughtful about what you’ve learned along the way, that’s OK. The challenge is to be strategic about identifying how you wish to be perceived, developing a compelling story that explains your evolution, and then spreading that message.” HBR: Be Seen as a Leader by Adam Galinsky and Gavin Kilduff — “Research tells us there are certain ‘competence cues,’ such as speaking up, taking the initiative, and expressing confidence, that suggest leadership potential. These proactive behaviors can be good indications that a person has useful expertise and experience, or they might simply reflect deep-seated personality traits such as extroversion and dominance. However, there’s increasing evidence that people can propel themselves into proactivity by temporarily shifting their psychological frame of mind.” HBR: A Second Chance to Make the Right Impression by Heidi Grant — “If you started off on the wrong foot and need to overcome a bad impression, the evidence will have to be plentiful and attention-getting in order to activate phase two thinking. Keep piling it on until your perceiver can no longer tune it out, and make sure that the information you’re presenting is clearly inconsistent with the existing ideas about you.” HBR: Rebounding from Career Setbacks by Mitchell Lee Marks, Philip Mirvis, and Ron Ashkenas — “Admittedly, this can be a little frightening, especially if you’re venturing into unknown career territory. Reimagining your professional identity is one thing; bringing it to life is another. Remember, though, that you haven’t left your skills and experience behind with your last job, and you’ll also bring with you the lessons learned from the setback. You may also have productively revised your definition of success.”


29 Nov 2018

Rank #3

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Perfect Timing (Live)

Is the right career move coming at the wrong time? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Daniel Pink, the author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. In front of a live audience, they talk through what to do when you’re poised for a better role but have to wait six months, you want your company to seize an immediate market opportunity, or you’re trying to correct a mistimed job move. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: When to Stick with Something — and When to Quit by André Spicer — “Perseverance has received lots of support in recent years from a variety of schools of research. One is from psychologists studying grit. They have found the capacity to stick to a task — particular when faced with difficulties – is a crucial factor in explaining the success of everyone from kids in the national spelling bee to recruits at West Point to Ivy league undergraduates.” Book: When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink — “After standing watch hour after hour without a break, our mental guards grow tired. They sneak out back for a smoke or a pee break. And when they’re gone, interlopers—sloppy logic, dangerous stereotypes, irrelevant information­—slip by. Alertness and energy levels, which climb in the morning and reach their apex around noon, tend to plummet during the afternoons.” HBR: Should New Grads Take Any Job or Wait for the Right One? by Jodi Glickman — “Evaluate opportunities, not based on whether they are “right” or “perfect” for your long-term goals but based on whether you’ll gain something now that will be useful later. Specifically, think about three criteria: will the job you’re considering offer experience, credibility, or income?” HBR: When to Take Initiative at Work, and When Not To by Sharon K. Parker and Ying (Lena) Wang — “Consider which initiatives are worth driving, and before taking one on, ask: Do I have enough personal interest and professional expertise to lead it? Do I have the time and resources to execute it? Allow some initiatives to be led by others.”


27 Nov 2019

Rank #4

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Heavy Workloads

Do you or your team have way too much to do? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Amy Jen Su, an executive coach and the author of The Leader You Want to Be. They talk through what to do when you’re struggling to get things done at a new job, a coworker is stressed about their work, or you and your team disagree about whether they’re overworked. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: Make Time for the Work That Matters by Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen— “More hours in the day. It’s one thing everyone wants, and yet it’s impossible to attain. But what if you could free up significant time—maybe as much as 20% of your workday—to focus on the responsibilities that really matter?” Book: The Leader You Want to Be: Five Essential Principles for Bringing Out Your Best Self—Every Day by Amy Jen Su — “Many of us face the constant quandary of wanting to do more, advance and complete our initiatives, expand our impact in new and exciting ways, and be the best versions of ourselves we can be. But we’re all limited by the finite hours in any given day. Our challenge is figuring out how to get everything done within that set framework—and without sacrificing too many of the things that make life meaningful outside work, such as time with family and friends, personal interests, and exercise.” HBR: What to Do If Your Team Is Too Busy to Take On New Work by Dutta Satadip — “A perennial management challenge is figuring out how to minimize the amount of time employees spend on low-value tasks — the repetitive, transactional tasks that have to get done, but often seem to take up an inordinate amount of time. It’s not possible to eliminate all transactional tasks, but by diving into the details of existing processes, leaders can challenge the status quo and help simplify processes that reduce these tasks.” HBR: How to Tell Your Boss You Have Too Much Work by Rebecca Knight — “These days it seems like most people have too much on their plate. Everyone complains about feeling overworked. So how do you tell your boss you simply have too much to do? No one wants to come across as lazy, uncommitted, or not a team player. How can you protect your image as a hard worker while saying uncle?”


31 Oct 2019

Rank #5

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Motivating Employees

Has your team checked out? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Richard Boyatzis, a management professor at Case Western Reserve University and coauthor of the book Helping People Change. They talk through what to do when a colleague wants the status of a prominent role but doesn’t want to do the work, employees are leaving the company at a high rate, or your subordinate resists doing any additional work.  From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: How to Motivate Your Problem People by Nigel Nicholson — “Everyone knows that good managers motivate with the power of their vision, the passion of their delivery, and the compelling logic of their reasoning. Add in the proper incentives, and people will enthusiastically march off in the right direction.” Book: Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth by Richard E. Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten — “In our attempt to coach a person seeking help, most of us naturally take a problem-solving approach, focusing on the gaps between where they are and where we think they should or could be. We are trying to fix them. This does not work well, if at all, to motivate sustained learning, change, or adaptation.” HBR: A Guide to Managing a Volunteer Workforce by Joe McCannon and Hahrie Han— “The belief that you need to convince, cajole, or manipulate people into joining your cause is wrong. People who volunteer generally don’t do it because you’ve worn them down with messaging. Once someone has expressed interest in volunteering, strive to learn what their dreams are in order to help make them come true.” HBR: How to Tell an Employee They Didn’t Get a Promotion by Rebecca Knight — “It’s no fun to tell employees that they’ve been passed over for a promotion — especially if you value them and their work. What’s the best way to deliver the bad news? What can you say to make sure they don’t lose interest in their jobs or hold grudges against you or the decision makers?”


14 Nov 2019

Rank #6

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Toxic Workplaces

If your workplace is toxic, can you change it? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Nicholas Pearce, an associate professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. They talk through how to transform a toxic culture, whether you’re a junior employee, a manager, or in charge. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: Recognizing Employees Is the Simplest Way to Improve Morale by David Novak — “One question I loved to ask is, ‘What would you do if you had my job?’ Maybe the response will be a useful suggestion, in which case you should acknowledge it and implement it if possible, to prove that these conversations aren’t just for show. Even if you don’t get any great ideas, such discussions can still have a huge impact, as long as your staff sees that you really thought about their suggestions.” HBR: Changing Company Culture Requires a Movement, Not a Mandate by Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule — “The dominant culture and structure of today’s organizations are perfectly designed to produce their current behaviors and outcomes, regardless of whether those outcomes are the ones you want. If your hope is for individuals to act differently, it helps to change their surrounding conditions to be more supportive of the new behaviors, particularly when they are antithetical to the dominant culture.” HBR: Manage Your Emotional Culture by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill — “In our interviews with executives and employees, some people have told us that their organizations lack emotion altogether. But every organization has an emotional culture, even if it’s one of suppression. By not only allowing emotions into the workplace, but also understanding and consciously shaping them, leaders can better motivate their employees.” HBR: The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture by Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng — “Much like defining a new strategy, creating a new culture should begin with an analysis of the current one, using a framework that can be openly discussed throughout the organization. Leaders must understand what outcomes the culture produces and how it does or doesn’t align with current and anticipated market and business conditions.”


3 May 2018

Rank #7

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Performance Reviews

Do performance reviews fill you with anxiety? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. They talk through how to handle performance reviews that have mixed messages, extreme criticism, or not enough helpful feedback. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: What to Do When You Think Your Performance Review Is Wrong by Dick Grote — “Challenging a boss’s appraisal, even in a clear-cut case of bad data, is always a ticklish matter. Be cautious. It’s not easy to say to your boss, in whatever words you choose to use, ‘You’re wrong.’ Don’t lose sight of the fact that your boss probably has a significant investment in the appraisal you’ve decided to challenge.” HBR: How to Ask for Feedback That Will Actually Help You by Peter Bregman — “Being good at receiving feedback is especially important at work, because your colleagues are less likely to push past your defensiveness and more willing to write you off if they have a hard time working with you. If that happens, you’ll never know why — since you won’t have heard the feedback — so you’ll keep repeating the same mistakes.” HBR: What to Do After a Bad Performance Review by Carolyn O’Hara — “But research suggests that letting something simmer can make things worse, for several reasons. When we’re stressed, our brain tends to mount a defensive ‘fight-flight-or-freeze’ response—during which there’s reduced activity in brain areas responsible for reasoning, self-control, and forward thinking. And trying to suppress our irritation has been found to make our brain’s defensive response more pronounced rather than less.” HBR: Let’s Not Kill Performance Evaluations Yet by Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, and Adam Grant — “The long march to the boss’s office to get evaluated—it’s a moment we all dread. Performance reviews are awkward. They’re biased. They stick us in boxes and leave us waiting far too long for feedback. It’s no surprise that by the end of 2015, at least 30 of the Fortune 500 companies had ditched performance evaluations altogether.”


29 Jun 2018

Rank #8

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Poor Communicators

Is miscommunication a constant problem at your workplace? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Holly Weeks, a lecturer at Harvard University. They talk through what to do when your coworker won’t stop talking, your boss overcommunicates with everyone on a project, or a leader keeps changing what you’re supposed to do. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: Book: Failure to Communicate by Holly Weeks — “It helps to think of a tough conversation as a landscape through which we and our counterpart move. If we look at a landscape expecting to see a battlefield, that’s how we will see it. But the landscapes of difficult conversations don’t have to be battlefields.” HBR: How to Tell a Coworker They’re Annoying You by Caroline Webb — “The trick here is to pick one specific incident and describe what I call the ‘true facts’: the things you know for sure, stripped of emotion, interpretation, or generalization. For me, that meant not saying things like ‘Your edits suck’ or ‘You’re not giving me enough space.’ These statements are debatable, because the other person can say ‘That’s not true.’ And because they’re so broadly critical, they’re more likely to put your colleague’s brain on the defensive—meaning they won’t be at their most expansive and generous as they respond. Instead, aim for something that feels more like ‘What I noticed was [fact, fact, fact].’ Be as precise and concrete as you can, even if you think there’s a big issue at stake.” HBR: Managing 3 Types of Bad Bosses by Vineet Nayar — “Omniscient leaders will challenge you and mire your ideas in discussions about the pros and cons if you present them as prescriptions. However, they love spotting great ideas themselves. Try presenting your ideas as if they are half-baked, or as though you’re unsure of their efficacy and need to hone them. That will ensure immediate buy-in by your supervisor, and rapid decisions.” HBR: When Your Boss Is Terrible at Leading Meetings by Paul Axtell — “Stepping up and offering to do something will usually be appreciated and respected. However, we all know that our ability to speak frankly with our boss is determined by the level of trust and respect that exists between us. If your boss values what you bring to the group, you can be straightforward: ‘Sam, I think we can raise the quality of our meetings by doing a couple of things differently. If you agree, I would be willing to do the following…’”


9 Aug 2018

Rank #9

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New Beginnings

Do you want a fresh start to your work life? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Wendy Wood, a social psychologist at USC Marshall School of Business and the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick. They talk through what to do when you’re bored to tears in your current job, you’re being recruited by an exciting company right after a disappointing promotion, or you feel stymied in a role you thought was going to be great. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: The Key to Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick by Francesca Gino — “As it turns out, temporal landmarks like the New Year do help motivate us to reach our long-term goals when such goals are salient in our minds. This is because these landmarks trigger reflection and thus can potentially highlight the gap between our current behavior (such as watching TV every night or overspending) and our rosier, desired future behavior (working out every night or saving more).” Book: Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood — “A decision to ask for a raise at work starts with setting an appointment with your boss. You carefully phrase your request and outline your reasons. Or, you decide to add some romance to your life by asking that attractive person at the gym to meet for coffee. After some deliberation, you find an appropriately casual way to do so. Decisiveness works in these one-off events. We make our decision, steel our resolve, and muster our strength to follow through. Other parts of our lives, however, are stubbornly resistant to executive control.” HBR: Is It Time to Quit Your Job? by Amy Gallo — “Everyone has bad days at work or even long periods when they feel disheartened about their job. But how do you know the difference between ordinary, occasional dissatisfaction and a genuine mismatch? How do you know when you’re truly ready to move on? And how do you then get out gracefully?” HBR: Managing Yourself: Five Ways to Bungle a Job Change by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams — “People who switch organizations—whether they’re wide receivers changing football teams or general managers going to new companies—all face similar problems. It’s not just about the learning curve. Moves of all kinds entail significant internal and external challenges and transaction costs: upheaval in your home and social life; potential relocation expenses; adjustments to new cultural and political norms; navigation of unclear expectations; and the need to learn a new canon, skill set, and jargon.”


9 Jan 2020

Rank #10

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Generational Conflict

Do you have a hard time with older or younger co-workers? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Jennifer Deal, the co-author of What Millennials Want from Work. They talk through what to do when you’re struggling with an older colleague, when you’re managing a much older worker, and how to motivate younger employees who seem lax on the job. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: What Facebook Knows About Engaging Millennial Employees by Lori Goler — “Millennials want to do meaningful work and be a part of something that will have a positive impact on the world. Some might characterize this attitude as demanding and self-centered — asking for too much from a job. But our data indicates that at Facebook — and probably many other organizations — people of all generations have begun to redefine fulfillment in this way.” HBR: What Younger Workers Can Learn from Older Workers, and Vice Versa by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott — “As life and working life expands, everyone will go through more changes and transitions. Having the skills and transformational assets to support this change tends to be something that is strongest in the young. However, as people live longer, they need to display this skill throughout their lives. Juvenescence, the art of aging young, is important, and this naturally opens up an avenue for inverse mentoring of the young by the old.” HBR: The Four Biggest Reasons for Generational Conflict in Teams by Tammy Erickson — “The crux of most technology-based team misunderstandings is not the technology per se – it is how team members interpret each others’ intentions based on communication approaches. Younger members are accustomed to rapid responses from peers; they are likely to feel frustrated and, at times, rejected if they don’t hear from older colleagues for a day or so. Team members from older generations may not only be uncomfortable with digital communication, they may even feel offended by a lack of face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice interaction, or left out of the loop.” Book: What Millennials Want from Work by Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson — “Our research revealed that, fundamentally, Millennials want what older generations have always wanted: an interesting job that pays well, where they work with people they like and trust, have access to development and the opportunity to advance, are shown appreciation on a regular basis, and don’t have to leave.” Editor’s note: This episode was updated April 11, 2018.


8 Mar 2018

Rank #11

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Dysfunctional Teams

Is your teamwork not working? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School. They talk through what to do when your team isn’t communicating, doesn’t respect its leader, or has one employee who’s causing problems. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: The Three Pillars of a Teaming Culture by Amy Edmondson — “When you join an unfamiliar team or start a challenging new project, self-protection is a natural ins tinct. It’s not possible to look good or be right all the time when collaborating on an endeavor with uncertain outcomes. But when you’re concerned about yourself, you tend to be less interested in others, less passionate about your shared cause, and unable to understand different points of view. So it takes conscious work to shift the culture.” HBR: Too Much Team Harmony Can Kill Creativity by Darko Lovric and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic — “Consistent with these famous case studies, scientific research shows that creativity and innovation can be enhanced by reducing team harmony. For instance, a recent study of 100 product development teams found that two common disruptors of team harmony, namely diversity and task uncertainty, were positively associated with creative performance.” HBR: Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson — “Our study showed that a number of skills were crucial: appreciating others, being able to engage in purposeful conversations, productively and creatively resolving conflicts, and program management. By training employees in those areas, a company’s human resources or corporate learning department can make an important difference in team performance.” HBR: The Secrets of Great Teamwork by Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen — “Team assignments should be designed with equal care. Not every task has to be highly creative or inspiring; many require a certain amount of drudgery. But leaders can make any task more motivating by ensuring that the team is responsible for a significant piece of work from beginning to end, that the team members have a lot of autonomy in managing that work, and that the team receives performance feedback on it.”


15 Nov 2018

Rank #12

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Career Crossroads

Are you weighing the trade-offs of a big career decision? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at the executive search firm Egon Zehnder. They talk through what to do when you want to transition from individual contributor to management, you’re mulling over a more senior role at a smaller organization, or you’re having doubts about staying on a high-pressure career track. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: Make Peace with Your Unlived Life by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries— “Tina was at a crossroads. Her daughter had recently left for college, and her husband had his own pursuits. And although she’d once enjoyed banking, she now bore little interest in her work. For some time, she had been asking herself whether she should quit. But what would her colleagues and bosses think of her?” HBR: The Key to Career Growth: Surround Yourself with People Who Will Push You by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz — “Don’t hesitate to ask the truly big questions. What shall I do with my life? What really motivates me? What am I doing that I really don’t like to do? While pondering these questions, in addition to checking my capability, connectivity and credibility, I also engage my friends in conversation about three other Cs: contemplation (Am I in touch with my inner compass?), compassion (Do I show it for myself and others?), and companions (Who else might inspire me to new growth?)” HBR: How to Stay Stuck in the Wrong Career by Herminia Ibarra — “We like to think that the key to a successful career change is knowing what we want to do next, then using that knowledge to guide our actions. But studying people in the throes of the career change process (as opposed to afterward, when hindsight is always 20/20) led me to a startling conclusion: Change actually happens the other way around. Doing comes first, knowing second.” HBR: How Star Women Build Portable Skills by Boris Groysberg — “After studying the fortunes of more than 1,000 star stock analysts, we found that when a star switches companies, not only does his performance plunge, but so does the market value of his new company. What’s more, these players don’t tend to stay with their new organizations for very long, despite the generous pay packages that lured them in. Everybody loses out.”


11 Jul 2019

Rank #13

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Overcoming Negativity

Do you ruminate endlessly on difficult work situations? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University. They talk through what to do when your boss constantly criticizes you, you’ve been fired unexpectedly, or your coworkers complain about you to your boss. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: Book: Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride by David DeSteno — “In truth, emotions are among the most powerful and efficient mechanisms we have to guide good decisions. They’re the first such mechanisms we developed, too. Emotional responses existed long before we acquired the cognitive abilities to plan ahead… The trick to success, then, comes in understanding that emotions don’t only happen to us; we can use them to help achieve our goals — if we develop the wisdom to call upon the right emotions to meet the challenges at hand.” HBR: How to Bounce Back from Adversity by Joshua D. Margolis and Paul Stoltz— “So how do you react? Are you angry and disappointed, ranting and raving to anyone who will listen? Do you feel dejected and victimized, resigned to the situation even as you deny the cold reality of it? Or do you experience a rush of excitement—perhaps tinged with fear—because you sense an opportunity to develop your skills and talents in ways you’d never imagined? The truth is, you’ve probably reacted in all those ways when confronted with a challenge—maybe even cycling through multiple emotional states in the course of dealing with one really big mess.” HBR: 3 Ways to Better Understand Your Emotions by Susan David — “There are a variety of reasons why this is so difficult: We’ve been trained to believe that strong emotions should be suppressed. We have certain (sometimes unspoken) societal and organizational rules against expressing them. Or we’ve never learned a language to accurately describe our emotions.” HBR: How to Respond to Negativity by Peter Bregman — “Countering someone’s negativity with your positivity doesn’t work because it’s argumentative. People don’t like to be emotionally contradicted and if you try to convince them that they shouldn’t feel something, they’ll only feel it more stubbornly. And if you’re a leader trying to be positive, it comes off even worse because you’ll appear out of touch and aloof to the reality that people are experiencing.”


4 Apr 2019

Rank #14

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Annoying Subordinates

Does your direct report get on your nerves? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. They talk through how to manage someone who is unlikable, overly polite, or passive-aggressive. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: How to Help an Employee Who Rubs People the Wrong Way by Rebecca Knight — “If you’ve ever cringed in a meeting when your direct report was talking, you know how tough it can be to watch a team member undermine themselves. Maybe the person is interrupting colleagues too often. Or being condescending, or even combative. No matter the specific behavior, your employee is clearly rubbing people the wrong way. As the manager, you know it’s your job to address the issue, but you’re not sure how to start the conversation.” Psychology Today: Understanding Passive Aggressive Behavior by Signe Whitson — “The passive-aggressive person believes life will only get worse if other people know of his anger, so he expresses his feelings indirectly, using a variety of behaviors to subtly ‘get back’ at another person.  While anger itself is generally experienced as an uncomfortable emotion, the passive-aggressive person derives genuine pleasure out of frustrating others, hence our label of the behavior as ‘the angry smile.’” HBR: How to Give Feedback to People Who Cry, Yell, or Get Defensive by Amy Jen Su — “Emotional reactions can put us on opposite sides of the table with the other person. By focusing on good intentions, preparing with integrity, and calmly and effectively responding in the moment, we can move to the same side of the table and help the other person grow.” HBR: How to Tell a Coworker They’re Annoying You by Caroline Webb — “But research suggests that letting something simmer can make things worse, for several reasons. When we’re stressed, our brain tends to mount a defensive ‘fight-flight-or-freeze’ response—during which there’s reduced activity in brain areas responsible for reasoning, self-control, and forward thinking. And trying to suppress our irritation has been found to make our brain’s defensive response more pronounced rather than less.”


14 Jun 2018

Rank #15

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Hard Conversations

Are you dreading a work discussion? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Leslie John, a professor at Harvard Business School. They talk through what to do when you need to set your boss straight, meet with a direct report who wanted your new job, or hash things out with a negative team member. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: Taking the Stress Out of Stressful Conversations by Holly Weeks — “Stressful conversations are unavoidable in life, and in business they can run the gamut from firing a subordinate to, curiously enough, receiving praise. But whatever the context, stressful conversations differ from other conversations because of the emotional loads they carry.” HBR: When to Skip a Difficult Conversation by Deborah Grayson Riegel — “In a 2013 Globis survey of more than 200 professionals on the topic of difficult conversations, 97% of respondents said they were concerned about the associated levels of stress for the other person, 94% were worried about damaging the other person’s self-esteem, and 92% were fearful of causing upset.” HBR: How to Have Difficult Conversations When You Don’t Like Conflict by Joel Garfinkle — “Lean into the conversation with an open attitude and a genuine desire to learn. Start from a place of curiosity and respect — for both yourself and the other person. Genuine respect and vulnerability typically produce more of the same: mutual respect and shared vulnerability. Even when the subject matter is difficult, conversations can remain mutually supportive.” HBR: Choose the Right Words in an Argument by Amy Gallo — “Instead of thinking about what you want to say, consider what you want to learn. This will help you get to the root cause of the conflict and set you up to resolve it. You can ask questions like, ‘Why did that upset you?’ or ‘How are you seeing this situation?’ Use phrases that make you appear more receptive to a genuine dialogue.”


10 Jan 2019

Rank #16

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Leading Small Teams

Do you have a hard time managing team dynamics? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Facebook executive Julie Zhuo. They talk through what to do when your subordinate is bossing around others on the team, a star performer you’ve hired threatens your status, or you want to help an underperforming team member. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: Make Sure Everyone on Your Team Sees Learning as Part of Their Job by Kristi Hedges — “A good starting point is simply to talk about your own development. When managers open up about their personal areas for improvement, it becomes more acceptable for everyone else to do the same. Ask yourself: What skills are you most excited to develop? What areas do you need to grow the most in? What insights have you found helpful in accomplishing these goals? Then share your answers with the rest of your team.” Book: The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo — “Running a team is hard because it ultimately boils down to people, and all of us are multifaceted and complex beings. Just like how there is no one way to go about being a person, there is no one way to go about managing a group of people. And yet, working together in teams is how the world moves forward. We can create things far grander and more ambitious than anything we could have done alone.” HBR: How to Manage Your Former Peers by Amy Gallo — “Becoming the boss is an exciting transition, but it can also be a nerve-wracking one. This is especially true if you are now managing people who used to be your peers. You need to establish your credibility and authority, without acting like the promotion’s gone to your head.” HBR: How to Manage Your Star Employee by Rebecca Knight — “Superstars can generate team tension. Perhaps they expect performance equal to theirs from others, or peers are jealous of their abilities and treat them differently than everyone else. You can’t control others’ emotions, but you do have a say in the way they act.”


2 May 2019

Rank #17

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Skills Gaps

Are you underqualified for the job you want? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Obed Louissaint, IBM’s head of talent. They talk through what to do when an MBA isn’t enough to get you into your desired role, you’re trying to keep your skills current as you spend more time managing people, or you want to return to a fast-moving industry after a long stint in another field. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: You Don’t Need to Meet Every Qualification to Apply for a Job by Art Markman — “Organizations expect people who are new to a role (and particularly people who are new to a firm) to grow into the position. They want new hires to ask a lot of questions, to seek out mentoring, and to even make a few mistakes as they get acclimated to a role.” HBR: Your Workforce Is More Adaptable Than You Think by Joseph B. Fuller, Judith K. Wallenstein, Manjari Raman, and Alice de Chalendar — “The gap in perspectives is a problem because it leads managers to underestimate employees’ ambitions and underinvest in their skills. But it also shows that there’s a vast reserve of talent and energy companies can tap into to ready themselves for the future: their workers.” HBR: How to Master a New Skill by Amy Gallo — “You may be jazzed up about learning how to speak in front of large audiences, but does your manager value that? Unless you absolutely need the skill for your job, or for a future position, it’s unlikely you’ll get money for training or support from your manager. Gaining a new skill is an investment and you need to know upfront what the return will be.” HBR: 7 Skills That Aren’t About to Be Automated by Adam J. Gustein and John Sviokla — “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.”


12 Dec 2019

Rank #18

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Ineffective Leaders

Does your organization lack quality leadership? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Peter Bregman, a leadership expert. They talk through what to do when your leaders are indecisive, unprofessional, or value the wrong things. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to Be Happy at Work by Benjamin Artz, Amanda Goodall, and Andrew J. Oswald — “Although we found that many factors can matter for happiness at work – type of occupation, level of education, tenure, and industry are also significant, for instance – they don’t even come close to mattering as much as the boss’s technical competence. Moreover, we saw that when employees stayed in the same job but got a new boss, if the new boss was technically competent, the employees’ job satisfaction subsequently rose.” HBR: Great Leaders Are Confident, Connected, Committed, and Courageous by Peter Bregman — “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.” HBR: Find the Reverse Leaders in Your Midst by Scott Edinger — “Reverse leaders lead through influence, not authority, and they gain that influence by making strong interpersonal connections. To do that they must be self-aware enough to understand the effect their words and actions have on other people. As more and more knowledge work requires people to work effectively with peers, the example of the way these people treat their team members becomes increasingly important to organizational effectiveness for all leaders, formal and informal.” HBR: What You Can Do If You Have a Gossiping Boss by Joseph Grenny — “And finally, gossip is, by definition, a notoriously inaccurate source of social data. The most accurate judgments about others’ motives, competence, or actions are judgments that have been exposed to broad and open examination. Dialogue is the best vehicle for establishing social truths; gossip protects its messages from this kind of scrupulous examination. There is no integrity in a process with no accountability.”


6 Sep 2018

Rank #19

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Coaching Problem Employees

Do you have a difficult subordinate who needs coaching? Dan and Alison answer your questions with the help of Melvin Smith, a professor at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and coauthor of the book Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth. They talk through what to do when your new employee is slacking off, a new hire needs to adjust to your organization’s culture and communication style, or you have to coach two direct reports who are in conflict with each other. From Alison and Dan’s reading list: HBR: You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach by Monique Valcour — “As a manager, you have a high level of expertise that you’re used to sharing, often in a directive manner. This is fine when you’re clarifying action steps for a project you’re leading or when people come to you asking for advice. But in a coaching conversation, it’s essential to restrain your impulse to provide the answers. Your path is not your employee’s path. Open-ended questions, not answers, are the tools of coaching. You succeed as a coach by helping your team members articulate their goals and challenges and find their own answers.” Book: Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth by Richard E. Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten — “This is what great coaches do. It’s what great managers do and great teachers do and what others do who know how to help people find and do what they love. They engage us in conversations that inspire us. They make us want to develop and change, and they help us do so.” HBR: How to Motivate Your Problem People by Nigel Nicholson — “Yes, it can be time-consuming, difficult, and fraught with risks and setbacks: Although some employees may respond quickly to your approach, others might require time to rebuild positive relationships with you and their work. But at least they will be heading in the right direction, under their own steam. And in the end, you ideally will have not only a rehabilitated employee but also a healthier, more productive organization.” HBR: How to Manage a Stubborn, Defensive, or Defiant Employee by Liz Kislik — “Some of the hardest employees to manage are people who are consistently oppositional. They might actively debate or ignore feedback, refuse to follow instructions they disagree with, or create a constant stream of negative comments about new initiatives. Most often, these behaviors are meant to make the employee look strong and mask a fear of change, an aversion to anticipated conflict, or the worry that they will look stupid or incompetent.”


17 Sep 2020

Rank #20