It’s common to get your hopes up about a job that seems perfect — and to feel defeated if it doesn’t come through. Taking a moment to wallow is natural. But one of the best ways to overcome the disappointment is to take action. Start by putting your rejection into context. Look back on some of your past disappointments — we’ve all got them — and reflect on how they made other things possible for you. Then, channel your frustration into motivation. For example, if you were turned down because you lacked certain skills or experience, learn that computer language or get the certification. You can also think about alternate ways to achieve your goal. Is there a competitor who recruits for similar positions? Are there adjacent roles that might still be a fit? Also, make sure to stay on the company’s radar. Join their mailing lists or set up a news alert so you know about company events or other job openings. And make it clear to your contact that you remain interested in the company. You never know when a different role might open up.
Many of us feel anxious when we’re speaking or presenting at a big meeting, but there’s lots of research on what you can do to look confident and competent in front of an audience. The key is to pay special attention to your body language. Make eye contact and avoid looking at your slides. A few glances are OK, but not at the beginning of your presentation. Also, keep an open posture with your arms uncrossed and your palms turned up. Remove any barriers — such as a lectern or a laptop — between you and the audience. And find areas of your presentation where gestures would help highlight key points or emphasize a concept. For example, if you’re listing a number of items, use your fingers to count them off. The last step? Practice until you get it right. Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes more time than you expect. There’s nothing more influential than the power of your presence matching the power of your ideas.
Negotiations can get emotional, to say the least. Whether you’re asking for a raise, more resources for your team, or to restructure your position, you might feel anxious, reluctant, or worried. But you won’t be successful if you’re worked up, so take steps to handle your emotions. Before the negotiation, ask yourself how your counterpart might respond — and why. Doing so will help you identify potential setbacks and gather additional information to respond to their challenges. The more you prepare, the less anxious you will feel. During the negotiation, if you find yourself getting upset or nervous, pause and reflect on the underlying reasons and formulate a strategy to address them. After the negotiation, try to avoid carrying negative emotions. Reflect instead on the moments you were most proud of during your interaction, and focus on how you will use your experience to get the result you want in the future.
When you’re trying to tackle an important project that requires concentrated attention, it’s easy to be overly optimistic about your time and to think you’ve got all day — or even several hours — to get it done. But when you consider all of the meetings, emails, Slack messages, calls, and “quick questions” that take up your day, you probably have less time than you think. So when you do get a 60- to 90-minute block, focus exclusively on your highest priority project and ruthlessly protect yourself from distractions. Complex and important projects usually have some administrative tasks associated with them that don’t require as much focus or creativity. Slot those to-dos into other times (say, in between meetings) so they don’t distract from your focus. It can also help to know what you need to do next on your project, so that you can dive right in. You don’t want to spend precious focused time trying to find the source materials for your presentation or hunting down a room to sequester yourself. Remove any barriers so you are ready to go.
When it comes to eliminating workplace discrimination, we often focus on the big decisions — who gets promoted or who gets the biggest bonus — while overlooking the smaller ones. To create an equitable workplace, identify moments that you might not have thought of as decision points. Work backwards from pay, promotion, and performance criteria. What skills, knowledge, and experience do employees need? Then assess whether all employees have equal access. Pay attention to career paths, especially those roles where early judgments about performance determine access to future opportunities. Also, help employees take charge of their careers. Sometimes, disparities arise — or are exacerbated — because employees don’t know which opportunities are important. For example, a new investment banker who is a first-generation college graduate will need more guidance than someone whose parents were bankers. Don’t expect employees to figure it out on their own, advise them on what specifically they’ll need to accomplish in five or ten years.
When you’re caught off guard in a negotiation, it’s normal to freeze up. After all, you weren’t prepared for your counterpart to change the deadline, take back a promise, or deliver an ultimatum. If this happens to you, try to avoid immediately jumping to a conclusion. Instead, suspend judgement, consider “I wonder what led them to say that,” and then ask at least one question. For example, if an employee unexpectedly demands a raise by saying, “I’ve been undervalued for too long,” try not to shut down the request, even if you think it’s off base. Ask something like: “Can you walk me through your thinking? What would getting a raise mean to you personally?” This kind of questioning might surface the employee’s real need — perhaps, to be seen as an important contributor — and then you could negotiate an adjustment around the employee’s visibility rather than their pay.
Lots of advice for working parents focuses on when children are small, but there are new challenges that arise as they grow up. For example, when your kid enters school, the childcare arrangements you’ve come to rely on often get upended. Prepare for this transition by thinking ahead to (and budgeting for) the new arrangements you’ll need. For example, you may have to secure after-school and summer care months in advance. There will be situations you haven’t had to deal with yet — snow days, early school dismissals, parent-teacher conferences — so have some backup options, whether it’s nearby family members or a reliable babysitter. You should also cultivate networks of support by getting to know fellow working parents who can share carpool or childcare duties. And develop allies in the office who support your efforts to integrate work and family. Without an effective support network, balancing the two is unlikely to get easier over time.
Instilling purpose in your employees takes more than motivational talks, lofty speeches, or mission statements. In fact, if overblown or insincere, those methods can backfire, triggering cynicism rather than commitment. To inspire and engage your employees, keep two things in mind. First, purpose is a feeling. You could tell your team that their work is important, but how can you help individuals feel it firsthand? Think about ways to show people the impact of their jobs. Perhaps you could bring a customer in to share a testimonial, or send a small team into the field to experience the client’s needs for themselves. Second, authenticity matters — a lot. If your attempts at creating purpose do not align with how you’ve acted in the past, employees will likely be skeptical, and they might be left feeling more manipulated than inspired. Making the pursuit of purpose a routine, rather than a one-off initiative, will show employees that you’re serious about it.
Being able to think strategically is important, but in order to get ahead, you have to show your boss and other senior leaders that you can do it. One of the best ways to showcase your skill is to bring a point of view to an important conversation. During a meeting where strategy is being discussed, for example, ask yourself whether those present know where you stand. If they don’t, speak up and share your perspective. Higher-ups want to see that you don’t make decisions in a vacuum, so be sure that your point of view considers how other departments might be affected or how the outside world will respond. Also, show that you can use your knowledge to put new ideas into action. No matter your level in the organization, you can execute a project that demonstrates that your understanding of the business extends beyond your current role. Leaders will know you’re ready to be promoted when they know you can make decisions that position the company for the future.
Many executives worry about how to retain younger workers, get fresh perspectives on strategic issues, and stay current on new technologies. Reverse-mentoring programs, where junior staffers “coach” senior leaders, can help. But for these relationships to work, finding the right match is crucial. Pair people across regions, departments, and locations, both to avoid conflicts of interest and to emphasize diversity of backgrounds. Also try to match different personalities, such as pairing an introvert with an extrovert; it’s more effective than matching two extroverts, for example. Be sure to consult mentees before making the pairing formal, since senior leaders are selective about who they’ll be coached by. And make sure they have enough time (and enthusiasm) for the relationship to thrive. The top reason that reverse-mentoring programs fail is that executives don’t prioritize them. If a couple of sessions are canceled, the momentum quickly dwindles. Train younger employees in how to structure sessions well — the more executives benefit, the more they’ll want to keep the commitment.
Looking for a job can feel like a roller coaster ride. One week you have interviews and you’re feeling hopeful — and then a month passes without any news. To make it through the process, you need to manage your emotions. Start by acknowledging that there will be ups and downs. Remind yourself that long waits, and the emotions they cause, are normal. Activities like mindful meditation and journaling can help you experience and sort through your feelings in a positive way. You may also want to enlist the help of a coach, therapist, or work group for support. If you’re unemployed, be sure to do activities that energize you, such as exercising or having lunch with a friend. And don’t take delays personally. If a contact hasn’t made the introduction that they promised, send a friendly reminder, but also think about their other priorities. Chances are, the person wants to help you — they’re just busy. This kind of perspective can mitigate negative emotions during your search.
Many managers sugarcoat tough feedback, either to avoid retaliation or to protect employees’ feelings. But research shows that managers tend to overestimate how well employees understand “nice” criticism. To make sure your team members have the clear, actionable feedback they need to grow, do a few things. First, give feedback more often. In addition to annual appraisals, use weekly or monthly check-ins, regular trainings, and in-the-moment comments to talk about employees’ work. The repetition will reinforce your message. Second, avoid language that could obscure your meaning. For example, “likely” and “a real possibility” are phrases that don’t mean the same thing to everyone. Be specific in what you say. Third, after you give feedback, ask employees to paraphrase what they heard, to ensure they understand it. Ideally, they’ll be proactive about asking questions when needed — but if they aren’t, neither of you gets what you need out of the conversation.
One important aspect of critical thinking is the ability to compare ideas clearly and succinctly. It’s a skill that, like any other, grows with practice. To help your employees get better at sorting through a range of information, give them informal opportunities to try. For example, after a client call, you could ask someone to tell you, in a few short sentences, what the takeaways were. Or, after a strategic planning meeting, you could ask someone for the pros and cons of the initiatives that were discussed. If the employee struggles to identify what’s important, try using a resource-constrained thought experiment: “If you could share only one insight with the CEO, what would it be?” or “If we had only $1,000 for this project, how should we allocate it?” You’ll know the person has mastered this skill when they can, on the spot, summarize a project’s key points and their implications for future work.
When making an important decision, should you trust your gut, or gather more information before deciding? There are two factors to consider. The first is whether more data could actually help you pick the right option. If your company is considering a new product idea, for example, you can do market research and assess your competitor’s offerings — but that information won’t guarantee that people will buy your product. In a situation like this one, you may consider the data at hand and then rely on your gut. The second factor is the context of the problem you’re facing. If successful mental models and schemas exist for this kind of decision, it’s probably a good idea to use them. On the other hand, if you’re trying to differentiate yourself from competitors who have followed those models, gut instinct may be the way to go. And remember: Intuition draws on the objective and subjective information you already know — so your gut feel is, to some extent, data-driven.
Every company has unwritten rules that dictate how people behave. Often these norms are so ingrained that leaders don’t even think about them — but unless you do, you risk creating a disconnect between how people think they should act and how you want them to act. Start by asking yourself what norms employees might hold in their heads. For example, what do people think the best way to get ahead is? Are they allowed to disagree with the boss in meetings? Then test your assumptions by asking employees what they think. (This may be easier if you aren’t the one asking.) Write down what you hear, and reflect on which norms help the company achieve its goals. If some norms don’t align with what leaders expect of people, figure out where the false perceptions come from, and then implement an internal communications plan to change them. Use management meetings, all-hands memos, and companywide addresses to get everyone on the same page.
Some employees need more validation than their managers can give. When a direct report always wants you to say they did a good job, or is never convinced their work is good enough, it’s best to address the issue directly. Schedule a private meeting to talk to the employee — and be gentle, not harsh or dismissive. Show the person that you care about their well-being, and use concrete examples to explain how their behavior is affecting you, their work, or the team. Encourage the employee to think about why they seek so much reassurance and how to find healthier ways to meet their needs. For example, they might turn to friends outside the workplace or a mental health professional to talk through their emotions. And set boundaries for the future, being direct about what your limits are. Throughout the conversation and going forward, treat the person as if they are strong rather than fragile. Your goal is to give them the right amount of support — not to make them feel bad for wanting more.
When you get anxious during a presentation, focusing on your feelings will only make things worse. Research shows that being kind and generous reduces our stress levels, so fight your nerves by thinking of your talk as an act of kindness: You’re sharing something valuable with other people. Use this framing when you’re preparing the presentation. Rather than starting with your topic, start with some reflection. Ask yourself, Who will be in the room? What do they need from me? Then craft a presentation that directly addresses those needs. On the day of your talk, when you’re extra nervous, take slow, deep breaths and remind yourself that you are here to help your listeners. And then during the presentation, connect with your audience by making eye contact — even if you’d rather do anything else. Pretend you’re having a series of one-on-one conversations, providing each person with the information they need. This generosity mindset can turn a painful experience into one of giving.
Some of the most useful contacts you have are in your alumni network. Attending the same university or graduate program gives you a shared history — and a great excuse to connect with other interesting, accomplished people. But how do you stay in touch with your peers? One easy way is to provide an annual update to your alumni magazine. Reading about what you’re up to can encourage old friends and colleagues to reach out. You could also volunteer for a role that will connect you with classmates. For example, you might serve as chair of the class reunion or launch a monthly alumni breakfast in your city. Or consider how staying connected could let you showcase your expertise. Alumni offices frequently host professional development webinars; you could volunteer to host one, sharing your knowledge with hundreds or even thousands of fellow graduates. Strategies like these will help you deepen your ties to fellow alums, and can even lead to valuable new business opportunities.
We often talk about fighting burnout as an individual effort — something you do by yourself. But prioritizing health and well-being is easier when it’s done with a group. That’s why you and your colleagues should collectively tackle the challenge of managing your energy. Have each person write down a “resilience plan” of some health-prioritizing behaviors they can commit to. For example, you might get up from your desk at lunchtime for 30 minutes and go for a walk. Someone else might take a five-minute break after 90 minutes of work, or get at least seven hours of sleep every night. As team members put their plans into action, regularly check in as a group to share successes and setbacks and talk about the difficulties people experience. You might also pair people up as an additional form of accountability. Over time, these forms of support can help everyone do their jobs in a healthy, sustainable way.
A boss who is well connected in your company can be a great asset for your career. But having a manager who lacks influence doesn’t mean you can’t get ahead. Build your own connections by developing relationships with senior leaders. Identify people who would be good to know — maybe they can provide important information, or they’re involved in high-level decisions — and then find a way to connect. For example, you could introduce yourself to an executive after a meeting and share something that could be of value to them. Or consider getting involved in the projects and initiatives that the executive cares about. It’s especially important to form these relationships if your boss is unlikely to sing your praises to higher-ups. If that’s the case for you, you’ll need to stand out so that decision makers notice you. Try leading a committee, speaking up in meetings, overdelivering on a project, or suggesting a new method to increase productivity.