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Why Criticism Is Good for Creativity

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One of the most popular mantras for innovation is “avoid criticism.” The underlying assumption is that criticism kills the flow of creativity and the enthusiasm of a team. Aversion to criticism has significantly spread in the last 20 years, especially through the advocates of design thinking. (In 1999, in the ABC Nightline video “The Deep Dive,” which ignited the design thinking movement, criticism was stigmatized as negative.) In IDEO’s online teaching platform, the first rule of brainstorming is “defer judgment.” To make this rule even more practical and straightforward, others have reworded it to say: “When a person proposes an idea, don’t say, ‘Yes, but…’ to point out flaws in the idea; instead, say, ‘Yes, and…’” — which is intended to get people to add to the original idea.

We challenge this approach. It encourages design by committee and infuses a superficial sense of collaboration that leads to compromises and weakens ideas. Our view, the product of years of studies of and participation in innovation projects, is that effective teams do not defer critical reflection; they create through criticism.

We therefore propose a different approach: the rule of “Yes, but, and.” To explain how this rule works, let’s first discuss why criticism alone (“Yes, but…”) and ideation alone (“Yes, and…”) do not work.

The rule of “Yes, but.” The problem with this rule is that ideas, even if truly exceptional, often have major flaws. This is especially true for the most innovative ones because they dive into unexplored spaces. If someone uses the existence of a flaw to kill the idea, a great innovation may be missed.

The rule of “Yes, and.” The notion of building on an idea, rather than criticizing it, in order to maintain a creative flow might sound like a good thing. Yet without critical feedback, you would hardly understand why your original idea did not work. You would perceive the new proposal as an unrelated diversion or, most likely, a different conflicting perspective. And the team would miss the opportunity to dive deeply into the original idea. It’s moving forward without progress.

The rule of “Yes, but, and.” We suggest combining the best features of criticism with the best of ideation. When you propose Idea A, a colleague first addresses what he perceives to be a flaw in it, provides constructive feedback (this is the “but”), and then suggests a possible way to overcome or avoid the flaw, yielding Idea B (this is the “and”). Then you do the same: You acknowledge Idea B, provide a constructive critique, and develop a new, even more improved result. Others can jump in with their critiques and proposals during the process. This kind of constructive interaction encourages a deep cycle of critical dialogues that can lead to a coherent, breakthrough idea.

Note that the “but” anticipating the “and” is essential. In order to build on your idea, your colleague does not just add a new improved proposal. First, she provides a critique, which enables you to receive precious and specific information, see weaknesses in your half-backed idea you couldn’t spot yourself, and therefore learn. You and the entire team will then be ready to dive deeper into the next iteration. It is the combination of “but” and “and” that creates real progress, enabling the team to see both positive and negative components and allowing each iteration to go even deeper into the analysis.

To create breakthroughs, it is necessary to leverage the contrasts that come from critique instead of escaping them. In her research on the power of dissent, Charlan Nemeth shows that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas; rather, they stimulate them. Progress requires clashing and fusing — not compromising or postponing — different perspectives.

Francesca Gino rightfully maintains that criticism works only when it leads to enhancing and improving an idea. A key element in this process is respectful listening and acknowledgment of the talent and abilities of colleagues. When the “but” becomes an attack on the other idea (or even worse, on the other person), then the result is detrimental. Adding “and” to the “but” fosters constructive and positive criticism, turning it from an idea-killing phrase into a way of expanding the flow of creativity rather than stopping it.

Critique, Creativity, Curiosity

The rule of “Yes, but, and” must be performed with care and a significant dose of discipline. Here are a few simple guidelines.

First, when you critique another’s ideas, you need to tap into your creative mind as deeply as possible.

  • When you see a weakness in the idea, don’t simply say, “This does not work.” Rather, first explain the problem and then propose an improvement that would make it work.
  • When you do not understand the idea, don’t simply say, “That’s unclear to me.” Instead, first point to the specific spot that is unclear and then propose possible alternative interpretations: “Do you mean X or Y?” This helps all participants to see more detailed options.
  • When you like the idea, do not just take it as it is. Instead, search for possible improvements and then push forward to make it even better.

Second, when you listen to someone’s critique of your idea, you should try to learn from it. A practical way is to listen carefully to the critique, be curious, and wonder, “Why is my colleague suggesting this contrasting view that is not in line with what I see? Perhaps there is an even more powerful idea hidden behind our two perspectives.” The critique becomes a positive force, focusing the team on overcoming its weaknesses and enhancing the original idea.

The secret of criticism in innovation lies in the joint behavior of the participants. Those offering criticism must frame their points as positive, helpful suggestions. Those who are being criticized must use critiques to learn and improve their ideas. When conducted with curiosity and respect, criticism becomes the most advanced form of creativity. It can be fascinating, passionate, fun, and always inspiring. Let us combine “Yes, and” with “Yes, but” to create the constructive and positive “Yes, but, and.”


Roberto Verganti is a professor of leadership and innovation at Politecnico di Milano, a board member of the European Innovation Council, and the author of Overcrowded. Designing Meaningful Products in a World Awash with Ideas.


Don Norman is a professor and director of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of The Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design. He previously was a vice president at Apple.

Why Having a Target Salary in Mind Can Derail a Job Negotiation

One of the most daunting tasks when you hit the job market (particularly for the first time) is negotiating your salary. The conversations often don’t feel fair because of the information asymmetry. The person you’re negotiating with knows what the firm generally pays people and is likely to have more experience with these kinds of conversations.

There is one simple factor that has a profound impact on salary negotiations: anchors. The pioneering research of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky demonstrated that when people are looking to place a value on something (like a job), they start by finding a salient number in the environment and using that as an anchor. Then, they adjust that number based on other factors. For example, a firm might publish a salary range for an entry level job at $36,000 to $48,000. You might naturally start your negotiation by anchoring on the top end of that range. Or, recognizing that you may get paid less than the maximum, you might adjust downward slightly and use that as your target salary for the negotiation.

Understanding how anchors work can help you tremendously in a negotiation — particularly when you do not have a lot of information — because you have a figure to aim for. However, you also need to be careful in how you use them because they can occasionally backfire on you, making you unhappy or resulting in a lower salary than you might’ve gotten otherwise.

Most people want to make the best salary they can, so they will use the top end of the posted salary range as a guideline for how much they could potentially make. If they get an offer close to the low end of the salary range, they are upset, because they expected to do better. That can lead them to be dissatisfied with the company and the people they negotiated with before they even start working.

In fact, if you have no relevant experience for the job you’ve applied for, you should probably anchor on the low end of the salary range. Salary ranges are set up in part to help more experienced applicants judge whether the position is right for them. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the level of a job just based on the title and qualifications. If the salary range is significantly lower than what someone is making already, that is a good indication that the job is not for them. The salary range also communicates the maximum amount you will make in that position so that you know when you need to be looking for a promotion.

Another source of anchors in a salary negotiation can come from other job offers you might have in hand. Research suggests that when people already have one offer, they use that offer to try to make more money at another firm. That is a great idea, but you need to do your homework about salaries at your target employer and what they might actually pay. For example, you might be tempted to make an offer that is somewhat higher than the job offer you have in hand. But it’s possible the new firm might actually be willing to pay you even more, meaning you anchored too low and inadvertently get a worse deal than you could have if you hadn’t used that offer to base your negotiation on.

Anchoring from information that is easily available from the job ad or from your experience can be tricky. It’s better to do a little more homework first. Many job websites will provide information about salaries that are being paid by particular firms in specific locations. Since that information is more grounded in reality, you can use that as one potential anchor for your negotiation.

Also, do a realistic assessment of your living expenses in the place where you will be working. Adjust any anchor you might have to account for the money you will need to live. Although firms have an interest in minimizing the costs of paying employees, salary structures that are too low breed discontent among workers and lead to turnover — both of which are costly for firms. You may be able to make a compelling case for a slightly higher salary based on reasonable estimates of cost of living.

Finally, although salary is important, pay attention to other aspects of an offer. Working in a job that you believe in can be worth a lot. You don’t want to discount the mission of the firm or any other benefits, like tuition reimbursement, vacation time, etc. While the number is important, it’s not the only thing that matters when trying to decide whether or not to take a job.


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).

 

To Prevent Burnout, Hire Better Bosses

When it comes to working conditions, we’ve come a long way in the past 100 years — and not just in the wealthiest countries. Global unemployment rates have been down since the 2008 financial crisis, and the number of new jobs created by technological disruption exceeds the number of old jobs that are automated. Yes, there are still ghastly sweatshops, windowless call centers, and asbestos-ridden factories. But, for the most part, there has arguably never been a better time in history to be employed, and it has also never been easier.

In this industrialized world, most employees desire consumer-like experiences. Stable jobs that pay well and give recognition are no longer enough. People want meaning and purpose, a sense of calling, and jobs that are crafted to their unique personalities. They want flexibility, fair compensation, tasks that stimulate, and perhaps most of all, they want to feel safe showing their “authentic selves.” Top employers know that they must cater to these significant expectations to be a serious competitor in the war for talent.

Yet, there’s still one, big unaddressed issue that keeps popping up: burnout. In the U.S. alone, workplace stress costs the economy around $300 billion per year in absenteeism, diminished productivity, and legal and medical fees. Unsurprisingly, study after study shows that stress and burnout are major drivers of staff turnoveraccidents, injuries, and substance abuse. Even among the top companies and the most desirable places to work this is a problem — and its generally the consequence of one thing: bad leadership.

In theory, leaders should be shielding their followers and subordinates from stress, operating as a beacon of calmness and safety throughout difficult times. In reality, however, leaders are more likely to cause stress than to reduce it. This problem is far more common than it should be. Millions of employees around the world suffer the consequences of bad leadership, including burnout, alienation, and decreased mental and physical wellbeing. This is particularly true when managers practice abusive behaviors, but at times, it’s their sheer incompetence that demotivates, demoralizes, and stresses out their teams. Lacking technical expertise, having no clue how to give or receive feedback, failing to understand potential, or a general inability to evaluate their subordinates’ performance, are just some of the common signs of incompetence.

If organizations want to improve their employees’ work experience, they should start by improving their leadership. This will probably do more to reduce workplace stress than any other single measure. To that end, here are four critical lessons you should consider:

There is no better cure than prevention. We are better at predicting our behavior than changing it, and that also applies to our leadership problems. While organizations spend much more time and money on leadership development than selection, it should be the other way around. Studies show that a leaders’ performance — including their tendency to stress employees out — can often be predicted using science-based assessments and data. There is no excuse for hiring leaders who consistently terrorize or alienate their teams. Moreover, it is not easy to simply coach someone to be pleasant, fair, and caring if they do not already attain at least some of those assets naturally.

In line, organizations should spend more time scrutinizing candidates who apply for leadership roles. Focus less on their past performance (particularly if they are being promoted from an individual contributor role), and more on their actual potential. Do they have the right expertise? Are they curious, smart, and fast learners? Above all, do they have EQ, empathy, and integrity? Using science-based assessments to measure these traits will help companies avoid future leadership problems.

It is more profitable to remove toxic leaders than to hire superstars. As a recent Harvard Business School study shows, it is about twice as profitable for organizations to eliminate parasitic, toxic leaders than to hire top performing ones. Toxicity spreads faster and wider than good behavior, and when bad behavior comes from the very top, it can pollute the company culture like a virus.

Organizations can avoid this common trap by focusing not only on leaders’ “strengths,” but also taking into account their potential flaws. What are their toxic or extreme tendencies? Do they display any dark-side traits? The key implication of the research here is that companies will be better off with above-average talent that is well-behaved, than with badly behaved superstars.

Resilience can hide the effects of bad leadership. Few competencies have been in such great demand recently as resilience, perhaps because resilience enables employees to put up with bad managers (same goes for grit). In a similar vein, incompetent leaders can hide their incompetence by hiring resilient employees with high levels of emotional intelligence, as they will show up as “engaged” in employee engagement surveys even when they are poorly managed or unfairly treated.

Organizations therefore need to ensure that their workforce doesn’t over-index in EQ or emotional stability. If you mostly recruit people who are dispositionally happy and cheerful as opposed to analytical and honest, it will be harder for you to detect problems with your leadership. Sure, this profile will generally be associated with higher levels of wellbeing, but it will also mask underlying leadership issues that need to be fixed. It is a bit like only reading customer reviews from your most lenient, positive, and friendly customers: just because they are polite or have low standards doesn’t mean you are doing a great job.

Boring is often better. Although people can stress out (and freak out) for multiple reasons, the most common one is an inability to predict what comes next. Uncertainty is one of the most common drivers of stress. This also applies to leaders, which is why boring managers will be far less likely to stress out their teams and subordinates than managers who are flamboyant, eccentric, or charismatic — especially if they are explosive and unpredictable.

To start, companies can reduce their reliance on short-term interactions, such as the job interview, when gauging leadership potential. The ability to put on a good show or performance during such instances says very little about the ability to be an effective leader. Instead, look into each candidate’s track record and references to learn more about their leadership style and character.

If companies are really interested in boosting their workforce’s wellbeing, they should spend less time and money worrying about perks like office layout, team off-sites, and organic snacks, and more time ensuring that their employees are not traumatized by toxic or mediocre leaders. To provide a stress-free work environment, they need to hire competent leaders. Finding the right person may take more time, but the pay off will be worth the investment — for employees and for the organization at large.


Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. He’s the author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It). Find him on Twitter: @drtcp or at www.drtomas.com. 

Making Sure Your Stress Isn’t Contagious

Stress doesn’t feel good to have, nor does it feel good to be around. Eighty percent of Americans say they feel stress during their day. In many organizations, stress feels baked into the work culture, even as everyone wonders what to do about it.

Like a contagion, stress spreads. We literally catch the stress of others. Simply watching someone else tense up can trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol in our own bodies. When I conduct interviews as part of my coaching work, I hear stressed-out colleagues described this way:

  • When he gets stressed, I try to avoid him.
  • Everyone knows when she’s having a bad day. It’s all over her face.
  • When he gets spun up, he gets everyone else spun up. It’s exhausting.
  • I’m seriously worried about her health.

Most of us think about the damage that stress causes us. Yet, few consider the negative impact of their stress on others. And it’s most certainly negatively affecting others, especially if you’re a manager. In fact, a leader’s stress is felt acutely as it impacts the emotion of an entire group.

People avoid stressed-out colleagues for their own psychic protection. If people don’t want to be around you, if they don’t find you energizing or rewarding to work with, you will be far less effective. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to collaborate with people who seem sturdy and resilient?

To stop your stress from impacting others (and wearing you down), consider these steps to better manage it.

Pinpoint your true stressors

When people talk about what stresses them, they tend to describe generalities like “my job” or “unrealistic deadlines” or “the new boss.” We don’t typically dive deeply into the triggers, because we’d rather not wallow there. However, we can’t solve what we don’t truly understand.

Try this: keep a stress journal for one month. At the end of each day, jot down when you felt stressed, including details about the specific situation and what was happening at the time. Reflect on these questions: What conditions caused me to feel stressed today? What about the situation felt important at the time? How was the situation meaningful to me?

One consulting client who tried this strategy learned that her hands-off management approach — which was meant to reduce her workload — was actually worsening her stress because she lost visibility into how projects were progressing. Worried that she’d end up in a fire drill at the last minute if the work wasn’t correct, she spent lots of time running through possible scenarios. She was still feeling the stress even if she wasn’t doing the work.

By uncovering what’s causing you stress, you can develop workable solutions to address the sources and not just the symptoms.

Change your reaction first and the workload second

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson describe in their book It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work how excessive workloads are touted as badges of honor in many organizations, even as employees complain about how overwork is detrimental to their well-being.

In fact, the top goal of many of my stressed clients is to get a handle on their workload by finding strategies that reduce the amount of work, such as better delegation or expectation setting. It’s not that this isn’t helpful, it’s just rarely enough. You can make adjustments, but there will always be more work.

 

Instead, start by examining how you feel about the workload. Do you feel compelled to be perfect? Are you prone to second-guessing yourself? Is there a pattern in your career of not saying no to requests?

You’ve probably seen how the very same job, with the very same workload, will stress one person while not bothering another. A salesperson I worked with marveled at how her colleague, Raj, never took rejection from clients personally. Rather, he’d say it was “part of the game.” She ended up adopting Raj’s mantra when she found herself agonizing over what more she could have done. Her work didn’t change, but her attitude toward it did.

Create pockets of sanity

Every job has busy periods when the best strategy is to hunker down and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. But this becomes soul-crushing when your work never lets up.

If your job doesn’t have natural breaks, create recovery periods for yourself. These can be organized around common stressors like business travel or key meetings, or spaced at regular intervals. Be as vigilant (and guilt-free) at scheduling activities that relax you as those that are work-related.

One client who felt drained from excessive business travel restructured his time to build in rewards. He selected hotels with spa services and booked massages during his stay — something he never found time to do at home. When possible, he extended his trip an extra evening to visit friends in the area and committed to not working during the flight home. He also made sure to keep the first day back relatively free from meetings so he could catch up.

You don’t have to make big moves to create space for yourself. Setting aside one half-day a month for reflection time can help to redefine priorities and reduce stress. Even micro-moments of sanity, like taking a walk to lunch, can offer a needed break.

Don’t just say you’re stressed; share how you’re working to manage it

Because stress is so prevalent at work, we talk about it — a lot. While sharing our stress can make us feel better momentarily, we’re actually contributing to a stressful culture because emotion spreads. In short, saying “I’m so stressed” increases stress for other people. Plus, what we focus on gets stronger, so we can even increase our own stress by talking about it.

This doesn’t mean that you should be inauthentic. A more helpful approach is to share that, while work is stressful, you’re trying to manage yourself so it has less of an impact. By sharing strategies you’re employing, you model for others that it’s acceptable to push back against stress instead of accepting it.  As a bonus, if you state what you’re doing out loud, you’re more likely to follow through on your commitments.

When Daphne, a leader of a lobbying group in a tumultuous industry, announced to her team that she was trying to stay off email over the weekend to get a break, she found that others were relieved of the pressure to respond. Her entire team exercised more caution about sending emails on the weekend, clearly marking what was truly urgent, and people started showing up to work more refreshed on Monday.

Plan for stress by planning around it

While most of us have accepted the idea of stress at work, we still feel surprisingly besieged by it. We can even have meta-stress — where we stress about having stress. Perhaps a better solution is to consider it the norm and plan for it. Jobs are stressful, industries are turbulent, and there are rarely enough resources or time. If that’s the case, how can you keep from adding to the churn and swirl? What are ways you can sustain your own energy and that of others?

We’re not as helpless as we might think. By exercising your own sense of agency, you can reduce your own stress and show others how to do the same. You might just shift the culture. Because while stress may be contagious, so is calm.


Kristi Hedges is a senior leadership coach who specializes in executive communications and the author of The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize People Every Day and The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersShe’s the president of The Hedges Company and a faculty member in Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.

 

How to Reduce Personal Bias When Hiring

When it comes to hiring diverse candidates, good intentions do not necessarily lead to good results. I once met a talent acquisition leader at a large global technology company who had changed the organization’s hiring process in multiple ways to bring in more diverse candidates but was frustrated by the lack of progress. Internal analyses showed that even though the company had interviewed a higher number of non-white candidates in preliminary rounds, their final hires were still overwhelmingly white.

I’ve seen this same situation play out in multiple organizations and industries and often it’s because well-intentioned hiring managers end up inadvertently weeding out qualified candidates from underestimated backgrounds because of unconscious bias.

Changes in process and diversity initiatives alone are not going to remedy the lack of equal representation in companies. Individual managers who are often making the final hiring decisions need to address their own bias.

But how? In my experience, there are several things managers can do.

Before taking any steps, however, it’s important to accept that no one is pre-loaded with inclusive behavior; we are, in fact, biologically hardwired to align with people like us and reject those whom we consider different.

Undoing these behaviors requires moving from a fixed mindset — the belief that we’re already doing the best we possibly can to build diverse teams — to one of openness and growth, where we can deeply understand, challenge, and confront our personal biases.

Here are the specific strategies I recommend.

Accept that you have biases, especially affinity bias

Even if you head up your organization’s diversity committee, even if you are from an underrepresented community, you have biases that impact your professional decisions, especially hiring. Affinity bias — having a more favorable opinion of someone like us — is one of the most common. In hiring this often means referring or selecting a candidate who shares our same race or gender, or who went to the same school, speaks the same language, or reminds us of our younger selves.

Microsoft’s head of global talent acquisition, Chuck Edward, told me that affinity bias is widespread in hiring and often leads people to seek out, and hire, candidates who “look, act, and operate” like them. He admits falling into this trap himself. “I’ve had to be very careful to address it head on,” he says.

Create a personal learning list

Spend time reading and learning about the experience of underrepresented communities at work. Among the books I recommend are So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and What Works by Iris Bohnet, which was recommended to me by Michelle Gadsen-Williams, a managing director and the North America lead for inclusion and diversity at Accenture. I’ve found Harvard Business Review’s “Women at Work” podcast to be an excellent resource as well.

Seek out resources that you wouldn’t normally come across and look for books and articles from underrepresented communities. In the U.S., that might include books that include the perspectives of immigrants, people with disabilities, and native American and indigenous communities.

Not only will it help you uncover the biases you’re bringing to hiring decisions, it will also equip you with the framework and language to recognize, and possibly call out, bias in your company’s processes.

 

Ask: “Where is, or could, bias show up in this decision?”

One team I work with had hiring managers who would often flippantly say phrases like: “We should hire this person. I could easily see myself having beers with them after work.” Or “This candidate is qualified, but really isn’t a cultural fit.”

These comments, laden with unconscious bias, would go unchecked. When the leadership team, which was entirely male and white, asked for my help in creating guidelines to reduce bias in the hiring processes, I suggested they start candidate debrief meetings by asking, “Where could unconscious bias show up in our decisions today?” This intervention, along with other process changes, led the team to hire two women leaders.

By explicitly acknowledging that we all have unconscious biases and creating a space to call them out, there’s an opportunity to hold ourselves and each other accountable.

Reduce the influence of your peers’ opinions on your hiring decisions

In the past, Microsoft would allow hiring managers to see each other’s feedback on a candidate, before it was their turn to interview them. “Everybody on the interview loop could see what others were saying — the words that were used, what was said about a candidate — before interviewing them,” says Edward. “It’s real clear how that could lead to biases and being influenced by someone else’s views.”

Recently, Microsoft made the feedback loop private — a hiring manager can’t log in to the tool and see their colleagues’ feedback until they’ve entered their own assessment of a candidate first. Edward says that the change has allowed people the freedom to form their own opinions, without being influenced by their peers – or their bosses.

Even if you don’t use a software tool for hiring loops, refrain from comparing notes verbally until you have formed your own point of view on a candidate. I recommend writing down your feedback on the candidate and whether you’re inclined to hire them, before you debrief with your colleagues. Again, ask yourself as you’re writing: “How could bias have impacted my assessment and recommendation?”

Use a “flip it to test” approach

In 2017, Fortune 500 executive Kristen Pressner gave a brave TEDx talk, where she admitted to harboring gender bias against women leaders, despite identifying as a woman herself. Pressner developed a technique to disrupt bias — ask yourself, if you were to swap out the candidate from an underrepresented background with one of your more typical hires, would you have the same reaction? For example, if a woman of color candidate speaks passionately, and you’re less inclined to hire her because you think of her as “angry,” would you use the same word if a white man spoke the same way?

“Flip it to test it” is a relatively easy way to call out bias as it happens. In a recent hiring decision that I was part of, a highly qualified woman of color was approached to apply formally for a role she was already informally performing the duties for. Since the organization was already familiar with her work and performance, the hiring manager saw no harm in having her skip the early parts of the hiring process. But some colleagues expressed concern about “bending the rules” for her. During the discussion, I flipped the concern by asking two questions: Would we have the same reservations if we were circumventing the traditional hiring process for a white person? In the past, when all the candidates we were considering where white men, did we focus extensively on the fairness of the hiring process? In both cases, the hiring committee unanimously answered: no. We were able to recognize our bias and eventually made an offer to the candidate.

Understand how reducing bias could personally benefit you 

Diversity in our workplace makes us smarter, more innovative, and promotes better critical thinking. It’s not only the organization that benefits, we personally have a lot to gain by working with people from all different backgrounds. By recognizing how we benefit from reducing our own bias — rather than focusing on the ROI for the company — we’re likely to be more motivated to take action.

As Gadsen-Williams told me, “A culture of equality is a multiplier. We can’t achieve a culture of equality if personal unconscious bias is not addressed first and foremost.”


Ruchika Tulshyan is the author of The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace and the founder of Candour, an inclusion strategy firm. She is also adjunct faculty at Seattle University.

4 Ways to Help Your Team Avoid Digital Distractions

In our always-on culture, employers expect workers to be reachable and responsive at all times. However, research shows that constant connectivity may be counterproductive when it comes to engagement and productivity levels.

Today’s smartphone users check their phones 150 times a day, which is the equivalent of spending 2.5 hours a day just opening and closing the phone. A single text message, which takes approximately 2.2 seconds to read, can double error rates on basic tasks; even worse, workers find that it takes an average of 11 minutes to get back into the flow of the previous task. Our phones have become compulsions, rather than tools of efficiency.

The long-term impact of distraction on productivity may very well outweigh the benefits of added efficiency. Former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris explains that we are battling an attention economy in which developers and advertisers are incentivized to hijack our attention. Their strategies are working. Today 26% of smartphone users are almost constantly online, checking their phones for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.

To overcome, or at least counterbalance, the effects of the attention economy, employers can build upon proven practices for fostering a positive digital culture:

Create quiet spaces for mental recharging. Even the most gregarious extroverts need downtime to work. Designate a space for employees to step away from work and devices to just be and think. Whether you install nap pods like Googlemeditation pods like Cigna, or just set aside a corner with comfy pillows, having space for downtime helps employees to activate their neural default mode network, which plays a crucial role in chunking information and connecting disparate ideas. According to a survey that I conducted in conjunction with Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, and Home2 Suites by Hilton, 89% of people believe changing their work environment throughout the day gives them a positive boost. (Disclosure: I was a paid consultant on this study.)

Encourage phone-free breaks.Despite workers’ desire to get away from their devices, more than half turn to their smartphones during downtime, even though research shows that employees who take their phones on breaks feel less restored and less productive after returning to work. A 2019 study of more than 4,000 employees worldwide found that “less happy” workers are about 57% more likely to spend their lunch breaks using social media, whereas “happier” workers are about 275% more likely to take a leisurely lunch with friends. Further, a study of 450 workers in Korea found that individuals who took a short work break without their cell phones felt more vigor and less emotional exhaustion than individuals who toted their cell phones along with them on their breaks, regardless of whether they actually used the phone. For extra benefit, encourage employees to make the most of their breaks by practicing positive habits (journaling, writing down things they’re grateful for, meditating, doing a random act of kindness, moving around, or connecting with colleagues) that will refuel them for the day.

Set the social script for communication. Many employees feel compelled to respond immediately when an employer reaches out, even if communication comes after work, over the weekend, or even on vacation. Fifty-five percent of American workers reported checking their email after 11 PM; 44% of cell phone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed, because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night. Leaders can create a more positive digital culture for employees by explicitly setting the policy on when and how employees are expected to respond. Companies such as Deloitte are beginning to create “team charters” to document communication preferences and expectations.

Empower employees to block out focus time. Amid the constant din of meetings and emails, many employees feel that they lack the uninterrupted time to actually get their work done. Employees who get even 55 minutes of time to themselves report feeling more energized (56%), friendlier (53%), funnier (23%), and even smarter (22%). To empower employees to be their most productive selves, encourage them to block out chunks of “focus time” on their calendars. They can even set up a short-term auto-responder explaining what they are doing and when they will be back (“I’m stepping away from my email to finish this project. I’ll be back in one hour.”). This small gesture communicates a sense of respect to other team members, but also signals that they value doing good work.

By actively cultivating both mental and physical spaces within the workplace, employers can reduce distraction and drive long-term engagement. It’s time to give employees a (real) break and, by doing so, unlock the full potential of your workforce.


Amy Blankson is a positive leadership consultant and the author of The Future of Happiness. She serves on the UN Global Happiness Council and is co-founder of the Digital Wellness Collective.

Don’t Set an Agenda Before Important Meetings

You’ve probably heard this advice about meetings before: Set an agenda and stick to it. But if the purpose of your meeting is to solve a complex challenge, this advice couldn’t be more wrong.

Complex problems — like how to grow a company faster, or realize the benefits of a merger, or comply with new regulations — are often multifaceted and entangled, and to solve them you can’t dictate what the group will discuss. After all, how do people talk about something that is an amorphous mess? Plus, a preset agenda will bias the outcome and undermine the group’s ownership over the process. And you can’t possibly know ahead of time the topics the group needs to discuss to figure out the solution.

The group needs an agenda, but the group members need to decide how to spend their time together — whether that’s a few hours or a few days. Below are the steps we recommend. You’ll need to allocate 10%–15% of your overall meeting time to getting the agenda right: a half hour for a half-day meeting, a couple of hours for a two-day meeting.

Individual Brainstorming

Ideally, people will show up having done the prereading, you’ll briefly remind them of the challenge at hand, and then you’ll introduce whoever in the room doesn’t know each other. Give everyone a few minutes to gather and record their thoughts on the topics the group should cover. If you don’t have them do this individual reflection first, you risk falling into groupthink and losing any benefit from the diversity in the room. Ask them to quietly reflect on the question and document their thoughts on sticky notes. In addition to topics the group should cover, people may want to record any ideas or concerns they have.

Clustering

Next, ask them to post their sticky notes for everyone to see. Try to do this in an anonymous way so that no one knows who suggested what. Give them time to scan the notes and ask them to look for thematic connections and duplicates. Move those thoughts together into clusters. While this helps to organize the content a bit and get people ready to start forming possible topics, the real point of this step is to give people time to see what is on everyone else’s mind.

Clustering the Clusters

Now have people suggest topics that emerge from the clusters and that should be considered for the final agenda. Invite everybody to suggest as many as they want, and make sure they know it’s OK to agree or disagree with what others are suggesting. If enough people agree, a topic makes the shortlist. If not, it’s politely set aside.

Finalizing the Agenda

With a shortlist of possible topics in hand, give the group a finite amount of time to whittle down the list to the final agenda. In most cases, you’ll need about one-third of the agenda-setting time to complete this step. You might also want to suggest the number of topics they should settle on, which will depend on the length of your meeting and how long each topic will take to cover.

The group can merge topics that are similar, or in some cases nest several topics within one another. Some topics might be dismissed as being out of scope or unimportant. Have someone record all of these decisions. At the end, everyone should know why each topic made the list, what will be covered in that portion of the agenda, and what result is expected from the discussion.

There are certainly other ways to develop the agenda with a group. If you want to create your own process, just be sure it follows a few guidelines:

  • Everybody can contribute their own content before dealing with the content of others.
  • Everybody has an equal say in what is and isn’t on the agenda.
  • Topics are filtered based on how important and interesting they are.
  • The exercise is engaging and sets the right tone.
  • The exercise leads to a shared understanding of what’s on the agenda — why topics were chosen, why they’re important, and how they’re meant to help answer the overall question.

Criteria for Deciding on Topics 

During the final sorting and deciding, it’s possible that people will disagree on which topics to address. That’s great — it demonstrates commitment and ownership. Here are some questions you can use to help the group evaluate potential topics for discussion.

  • Interesting to almost everyone. How many of you would rank this as “top three” once we have our final list of topics?
  • Undeniably relevant to the overarching question. Can somebody state how this topic will help us reach our goal of solving the complex challenge?
  • Holds the promise of actionable recommendations. What’s an example of an action that might come out of this discussion?
  • Reflects some strand of the complexity. How does this topic contribute to the complexity of the question?
  • Important to resolve. What’s at stake if we don’t resolve this?

People are used to arriving at meetings and reading through a preset agenda. By turning the agenda over to them, you set a different tone. This isn’t going to be the same old meeting. People are expected to be engaged and take ownership over the process and the outcomes. And they’re in it together.


David Komlos is the co-author of Cracking Complexity: The Breakthrough Formula for Solving Just AbouAnything Fast (Nicholas Brealey; May 7, 2019) and the CEO of Syntegrity, which helps leaders rapidly solve complex challenges, generate strong buy-in, and mobilize people for action.


David Benjamin is the co-author of Cracking Complexity: The Breakthrough Formula for Solving Just About Anything Fast (Nicholas Brealey; May 7, 2019) and the Chief Architect of Syntegrity, which helps leaders rapidly solve complex challenges, generate strong buy-in, and mobilize people for action.


 

Why Talented People Fail Under Pressure

When I was in high school, soccer was my life. I was one of the goalkeepers for the California state team, which was also part of the Olympic Development Program, and I knew the weight of my role. My ability to block a goal could make or break the game. And as confident as I was in my skill, the presence of the national coach at one of my games was enough to send me into a tailspin. I saw him watching me. I tensed up. I missed the game-deciding goal.

I choked.

My story is not unique. Countless numbers of talented men and women have bombed a job interview, botched a presentation, or failed to make (or save) the winning shot when the pressure was on. In the wake of each of these scenarios, there’s something you’ll inevitably hear people say: They were too “in their head.” True as this may be, what does it really mean?

Your prefrontal cortex, found in the part of your brain situated right above your eyes, is the epicenter of our cognitive horsepower, powering our ability to focus on the task at hand. When we are performing our normal, practiced tasks everyday, we often are – counterintuitively — not paying attention to all the little details of what we are doing; our prefrontal cortex is running largely on autopilot. But in times of intense stress, like a playoff game, major presentation, or a job interview, your prefrontal cortex can go into overdrive. When the pressure is on, we often start focusing on the step-by-step details of our performance to try and ensure an optimal outcome and, as a result, we disrupt what would have otherwise been fluid and natural.

When the pressure is on, we tend to panic — about the situation, its consequences, and what others will think of us — and as a result we apply too much cognitive horsepower to what we are doing. We start overthinking something that usually comes naturally to us — in my case, defending my team’s goal.

So what can you do when your prefrontal cortex goes haywire like this?

First, when you’re about to go into a stressful situation where you have practiced the task at hand to perfection, don’t overthink what’s next. Five minutes before the big event is not the time to go over every detail of what you are about to do in your head. Instead, give yourself a moment to focus on something else. Do a crossword puzzle. Think about the vacation you’re taking next month. My guilty pleasure is to catch up on the latest People Magazine online. Do anything that will prevent you from dwelling too much on the details of what you are about to do.

If you notice that you are starting to overthink, try singing a song, repeating a one-word mantra, or focusing on the three key points you want to get across to your audience. These approaches use up that cognitive horsepower that could otherwise be used against you. In my research, for instance, I’ve seen highly skilled golfers sink more putts while actively using these methods. Let’s say you’re preparing for a job interview. You know your resume inside and out, and in normal circumstances, you can easily recount your strengths and accomplishments. But when you sit down in the interview chair, you freeze up. If you take time beforehand to occupy your prefrontal cortex with unrelated activities, you’re less likely to overthink in the moment and more likely to be able to communicate your message effectively.

You can also remind yourself that those physical symptoms before an important event  — for example, sweaty palms or a racing heart — are good signs. They mean you are ready for the challenge that lies ahead. Research shows that reframing these sorts of physiological responses from a negative to a positive can help people put their best foot forward when it matters most.

Of course, you can’t burst into song during the middle of an interview. And when you’re sitting across from your boss during a big meeting or presentation, you can’t ask them to join you in repeating your mantra. In moments when you need to be more discreet, try these internal tactics to keep your prefrontal cortex engaged. Focus on the most important point you need to get across. And when you find yourself starting to monitor every word coming out of your mouth, think about your pinky toe instead — a technique a sports psychologist told me famed golfer Jack Nicklaus used on the green to prevent over-focusing on simple putts.

All of these techniques will only help you if you are well prepared. Of course, distracting yourself when you don’t have your presentation down won’t save you. It’s crucial to replicate and practice under similar conditions. For example, if you are taking a professional development exam, practice tests are the best way to mimic that type of environment. Similarly, you can time yourself as you practice questions at home to recreate a testing environment. For scenarios that aren’t solo endeavors — like a presentation or interview — you can ask a small group of coworkers to help you do a test run. If you don’t have a makeshift audience, record yourself practicing your remarks or rehearse them in front of a mirror. By doing your own run-through, you’ll alleviate some of the stress when the big moment comes.

And lastly, if you do choke, remember: It’s not the end of the world. You might be disappointed and even embarrassed, but like most things in life, it’s a learning experience. Take the opportunity to learn how to better handle the stress next time.


Sian Beilock is the president of Barnard College, a cognitive scientist, and author of two books — Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting It Right When You Have To (2010) and How the Body Knows Its Mind: The Surprising Power of the Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel (2015).

Is It Time to Let Employees Work from Anywhere?

  • Category Teams

Despite a few high-profile retreats from remote work policies in recent years, data on the U.S. workforce suggests that remote work is increasing. A 2017 Gallup poll reported that 43% of employed Americans had spent at least some time working remotely, and US Census data released in 2018 reported 5.2% of U.S. workers being based entirely at home.

Even as working from home (WFH) becomes relatively commonplace, a new form of remote work is emerging: working from anywhere (WFA), in which employees can live and work where they choose, typically within a specific country, but in some cases, anywhere in the world with a reliable internet connection. While many companies are just starting to consider allowing employees to work from anywhere, developed WFA programs can be found at firms such as Akamai and SAP.

Employees value the option to work remotely. A 2017 study even found that the average worker was willing to accept 8% less pay for the option to work from home.  This indicates that workers assign monetary value to the flexibility provided by a WFH policy. And with a work-from-anywhere policy, employers add even more value to employees by granting geographic flexibility.  It’s a significant difference: while a WFH employee can choose to pick the kids up from school or spend lunch hour walking the dog, a WFA employee can do all of those and also relocate closer to aging parents or to a location with a lower cost of living.

In our experience, however, managers often worry about remote employees working less, or multitasking, mixing personal responsibilities with work.  There are also concerns that allowing employees to work from anywhere could decrease communication and collaboration among coworkers and might constrain the informal learning that typically happens in the office.

But one 2015 study based in a Chinese travel agency found that when call-center employees were shifted to working from home, their productivity increased by an average of 13%, apparently due to a reduction in break time and sick days combined with a more comfortable work environment.  This finding raises the question: Could employees in a work-from-anywhere program also benefit from similar productivity increases?

In a working paper currently under review, we studied the effects of a work-from-anywhere program initiated in 2012 among patent examiners at the U.S. Patent & Trade Office (USPTO). We analyzed productivity data for patent examiners (highly educated and specialized professionals) who switched from work-from-home work conditions to the WFA program.

Our results indicate that examiners’ work output increased by 4.4% after transition to WFA, with no significant increase in rework (re-writing of patent decisions upon appeal from inventors). Supplemental analysis also showed that patent quality (as measured by examiner-added citations) did not deteriorate . The 4.4% productivity increase represents up to $1.3 billion of annual value added to the U.S. economy, based on the average economic activity generated per additional patent granted. (While not the focus of our study, we also found a correlation between working from home and increased productivity relative to working in the office, consistent with the findings of the earlier study.)

In supplementary analyses, we also found that examiners transitioning to WFA relocated, on average, to locations with significantly lower costs of living, representing an effective increase in real salary for these employees, with no increased cost to the organization.

Interestingly, examiners who had been on the job longer (that is, those closer to retirement) were more likely to move to the “retirement-friendly” coastal areas of Florida than their lower-tenured peers.  While this correlational finding is not predictive, it suggests that granting employees the ability to work from anywhere could yield some career-extending benefits to both employees and the organization, by encouraging valued senior employees to remain in the productive workforce longer.

We observed that WFA examiner productivity increased more if they were located within 25 miles of other WFA examiners, but only if the clustered examiners worked in the same technological unit.  Clustered examiners from different units experienced no additional gains in productivity. This finding suggests that geographically clustered WFA workers whose job content is similar may learn from each other informally, similar to the way that co-workers learn from each other through informal interactions in the office.

So, what should managers consider as they set WFA policies, and remote-work policies more generally?  Here are a few recommendations:

  • Employers who allow employees to work remotely should grant these employees true autonomy and flexibility, rather than trying to micromanage their remote work. Our results comparing WFH and WFA employees indicate that granting greater autonomy can actually enhance employee productivity.
  • Managers of WFA employees should mandate use of a common set of technology tools. Our study found that when the USPTO began to mandate the use of the agency’s common IT tools (e.g., VPN and messaging) by examiners, early-career WFA examiners who needed more approvals from their supervisors realized an additional 3% increase in productivity.
  • WFA employers should leverage any geographic clusters of WFA employees that emerge, especially among employees doing similar types of work. Providing funding for periodic informal meet-ups is a small investment for a potentially significant amount of employee learning. Managers can also rotate team off-site meetings among locations with significant clusters of WFA employees, so that the WFA employees can connect with in-office employees as hosts, introducing them to their corner of the world.
  • Based on our research – which focused on already-experienced employees – it seems best to keep newly hired employees co-located in the office with experienced peers long enough to benefit from the informal learning that happens organically in a face-to-face environment. Additional research is needed to determine whether or not newly hired employees could experience the same productivity benefits on WFA as the experienced employees we studied.
  • Finally, consider the type of work itself. We found that if a job is very independent – that is, the employee can carry out most job duties with little or no coordination with co-workers (as can a patent examiner) – the transition to WFA is more likely to result in productivity increases. More research is needed to identify the productivity effects of WFA for jobs with lower levels of independence.

A key takeaway from our research is that if a work setting is ripe for remote work – that is, the job is fairly independent and the employee knows how to do their job well – implementing WFA can benefit both the company and the employee.  What jobs in your company might be well suited to a WFA policy?


Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury is the Lumry Family Associate Professor at the Harvard Business School. His research focuses on the Geography of Work: how geography mobility and location affect the productivity and career outcomes of knowledge workers. He also studies how firms can create value from mobility frictions via strategies such as migration arbitrage and work from anywhere policies. He has a Doctorate from the Harvard Business School, degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Management and was on the faculty of Wharton. Prior to academia, he was an Engagement Manager at McKinsey, a Regional Business Manager at Microsoft and an AI programmer at IBM.


Barbara Z. Larson is executive professor of management at Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. Her research focuses on the personal and interpersonal skills that people need to work effectively in virtual environments, and she works with collaborators in both academia and industry to develop training methods and materials to enable more productive virtual work. Prior to her academic career, Professor Larson worked for 15 years in international finance and operations leadership, most recently as Director of International Finance at R.R. Donnelley.


Cirrus Foroughi is a doctoral candidate in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School. His research focuses on IT and the future of work, namely how IT facilitates alternative work arrangements, and whether and how IT complements or substitutes workers of different skill levels. Prior to HBS, Cirrus held research assistantships at the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and is a graduate of Dartmouth College.

 

3 Questions Hiring Managers Want You to Answer

Interviews have an outsize influence on whether you land the job you want. Even though your application materials reflect your lifetime of experience, a few hours of interaction with a recruiting team often ends up being the determining factor in whether you actually get hired. So, clearly you need to stand out.

To do that, it helps to be mindful of what recruiters and hiring managers are trying to accomplish with the interview and prepare accordingly. Below are three of the questions they want answered and advice on how to address them.

“What will it be like to work with you?”

People can’t know from your résumé or cover letter what it will be like to have you work for them. You want to demonstrate to your prospective employer that you will be a valuable colleague and someone with whom they will enjoy interacting. That means that a lot of what will determine the success of the interview is social. Yes, you need to be knowledgeable about your field, but you also need to help people envision you as a member of the team.

One mistake job hunters often make is to treat interviews like exams — ones that they hope to ace, or at least not bomb. The problem with this framing is that it assumes the interviewer is doing an assessment and looking for a correct answer, which can lead people to subconsciously slip into a too-adversarial stance or work too hard to reply with what they think their counterparts want to hear.

If you instead think about interviewers as people looking to find potential colleagues, and the conversation as an opportunity for everyone to get to know one another, the relationship changes. You and the recruiter or hiring manager share the same goal, and your meeting becomes a joint problem-solving effort: Do we want to work together? You will probably display your expertise as you chat, but you will also be demonstrating your ability to establish a rapport.

Another benefit to this approach is that it encourages greater synchronization between your and the interviewer’s brains. This is something that happens in most conversations. People speak quickly to transmit information in a timely fashion, and your brain, to better understand what they are telling you, predicts the words, grammatical structure, and tone of voice they will use. In a positive, engaging conversation, you mirror those elements of speech back to them, and vice versa. A wonderful paper by Martin Pickering and Simon Garrod summarizes how this happens.

If you treat your interviewer the way you would a trusted colleague — smiling, leaning forward, talking in a friendly way with energy and enthusiasm, and making eye contact — they should begin to use the same language mechanisms they already use with their favorite people in the workplace, and begin to think of you as someone who belongs at the organization too.

“Can you learn?”

You probably have the basic skill set required to do the job for which you are applying, but you’ll also need to learn as you go. (And if you’re completely prepared for the role, you probably set the bar too low.) How can you demonstrate that you’re willing and able to learn?

Chances are that there will be at least one question during the interview that you are not entirely sure how to answer. Maybe it is framed in a confusing way, so you’re not sure what’s being asked. It might use unfamiliar terms. Or you might understand the question completely but have no idea what to say. Don’t be tempted to bluff your way through an answer. Good interviewers can smell a phony response. (They probably hear a lot of them.)

Instead, admit that there is something you do not know or understand. A number of organizational behavior researchers have found that people don’t like to admit ignorance because they are concerned that it will make them look weak. But interviewers want to see that potential employees will ask questions, seek additional information, give more informed responses, and show initiative in developing themselves. And as studies have shown, you cannot ask for help unless you first let other people know what you do and do not know.

When you’re stumped by a question, ask for clarification. Rephrase the question or suggest a couple of possible interpretations. If you’re still not sure how to proceed after they’ve responded, explain that you haven’t encountered this issue before.

If the question that brings you up short involves addressing a scenario from the workplace, ask the interviewer whether you should think through the question aloud so that they can see how you work on new problems, or if they would like to talk with you about how this issue is normally handled within the organization (or both). Your goal here is to show the interviewer how you approach challenges while demonstrating that you are open to learning.

Another way to show that you intend to keep expanding your skills and knowledge is to ask about continuing education opportunities. Does the company routinely offer internal classes or seminars? Does it have tuition assistance or another benefit that allows you to take classes or certificate programs? Inquiring about these resources makes it clear that you are interested in further development.

“Do you take initiative?”

Interviewers want self-starters who take initiative (so much so that it’s become a cliché). The best way to demonstrate your effort and commitment is to arrive completely prepared. You should have a very clear idea of what the company does, its history, its strengths, and its weaknesses. If you know people who work for the company (or have worked there in the past), ask them for inside information.

Then, prepare for the interview by practicing your answers to common interview questions. There is a big danger in what Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil call “the illusion of explanatory depth,” or our tendency to believe we understand the world better than we actually do. In studies, these researchers found that people had difficulty explaining devices and routines in which they thought they had expertise. Thus, going into an interview, most of us might assume we can effectively describe key aspects of our work and how it relates to our prospective employers. However, in the moment, we can’t.

That is why practice is so important. It helps you to notice gaps in your knowledge while you still have an opportunity to fill them and to recognize places where you stumble, so you can say it the right way when the time comes.

One reason people don’t practice interview answers is they worry that overpreparing will make them sound rehearsed rather than spontaneous. But you will probably get several unanticipated questions, so there will be ample opportunity to show off your improvisational skills. In addition, your preparation for the interview will be noted, and that will count significantly in your favor. So, don’t skimp on getting ready.

No matter how qualified you are for a position or how prepared you are for the interview, you still might not get the job. If you feel that you developed a good rapport with the interviewer, reach out and ask for feedback. When you make this connection, focus the conversation on what you can do to improve your interview performance. Don’t ask the company to justify why you didn’t get the job.

Ultimately, the best way to stand out in interviews is to think carefully about what prospective employers really want to know about you before you are hired. From there, you will be able to address concerns before they even have them.


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).