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Checklist: Are you doing these five things to get ahead at the office?

office

1) Know How To Give Feedback

Why is it so hard to give feedback without people getting angry?

It’s a status game.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

The source of the difficulty here lies in who comes up with the solution. Paul’s suggestion makes him look smarter, and Eric less smart. This impacts their relative status, which Eric is likely to fight against. The better Paul’s answer is, the more likely Eric might resist it. It’s bizarre… Paul’s giving out suggestions also threatens Eric’s autonomy: it’s no longer Eric’s choice to follow a specific path.

So how do you get around this? Don’t give a solution, ask questions:

Eric isn’t going to take action until he has an idea that fits with his own thinking. In his current over-aroused state, he quickly rejects external ideas. Given that Eric is at an impasse, Paul needs to help him find an insight to solve this problem. If Paul can’t make direct suggestions, why can’t he just give Eric some clues about what to think about, perhaps posing a good suggestion as a question?

If you merely guide with questions, but they come up with the solution themselves, they’re less likely to feel threatened and more likely to follow through.

 

2) PowerPoint Makes You Stupid

It’s been estimated that by cutting down on the time given to meetings and spent creating PowerPoint major companies could save $47 million dollars a year.

Via How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid: The Faulty Causality, Sloppy Logic, Decontextualized Data, and Seductive Showmanship That Have Taken Over Our Thinking:

“PowerPoint makes us stupid.” This is what Marine General James N. Mattis declared at a military conference (in a speech given without PowerPoint) in North Carolina in April 2010. The article in the New York Times reporting the remark revealed the pervasive role the software was playing in the American armed forces. It reached the point that the then head of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley A. McChrystal, accused PowerPoint of having become the U.S. Army’s principal enemy, nothing less.

And:

PowerPoint’s convenience for some presenters is costly to the content and the audience. These costs arise from the cognitive style characteristic of the standard default PP presentation: foreshortening of evidence and thoughts, low spatial resolution, an intensely hierarchical single-path structure as the model for organizing every type of content, breaking up narratives and data into slides and minimal fragments, rapid temporal sequencing of thin information rather than focused spatial analysis, conspicuous chartjunk and PP Phluff, branding of slides with logotypes, a preoccupation with format not content, incompetent design for data graphics and tables, and a smirky commercialism that turns information into a sales pitch and presenters into marketeers.

 

3) Understand How To Sell Your Ideas To Others

What really makes a good salesperson? Two things:

  1. Empathy: Essential to understanding the customer and what they need.
  2. Ego drive: The ability to push forward and close.

Via The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life:

In 1964, three years after McMurry fired his salvo against the sales industry, two young academics, David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg, refined his ideas. On the basis of seven years of field research, much of it among insurance agents, they wrote that successful salesmen must have two qualities, empathy and ego drive: enough empathy to listen and understand what is in the customer’s head, and enough ego to close the sale.

And:

Here lies the challenge in finding good salespeople. You need excellent empathizers who aren’t so empathetic they can’t close a sale. And you need people with strong ego needs who can still take a moment to figure out what another person wants. They must be aggressive enough to close, but not so aggressive they put people off. Too much empathy and you’ll be the nice guy finishing last. Too much ego drive and you’ll be scorching earth everywhere you go. Not enough of either and you shouldn’t be in sales at all.

 

4) Manage Perceptions Of You

The book Power by Stanford business school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer may very well be a Machiavelli’s The Prince for the modern corporate era.

Research shows being liked affects performance reviews more than actual performance:

In an experimental study of the performance appraisals people received, those who were able to create a favorable impression received higher ratings than did people who actually performed better but did not do as good a job in managing the impressions they made on others.

Your relationship with your boss is far more important than your actual performance:

The lesson from cases of people both keeping and losing their jobs is that as long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance won’t save you… 

How do you keep the boss happy? Ask what they want and do it:

It is much more effective for you to ask those in power, on a regular basis, what aspects of the job they think are the most crucial and how they see what you ought to be doing.

 

5) Manage Your Network

People with the best networks perform better at the office.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

…this isn’t just in the interest of having a fun and friendly workplace (though that is an important bonus).Each one of these social connections pays dividends. At IBM, for example, when MIT researchers spent an entire year following 2,600 employees, observing their social ties, even using mathematical formulas to analyze the size and scope of their address books and buddy lists, they found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. They could even quantify the difference: On average, every e-mail contact was worth an added $948 in revenue. There in and white is the power of social investment. And IBM wisely decided to capitalize on it by starting a program at its Cambridge, Massachusetts, office to facilitate the introductions of employees who didn’t yet know one another.

And they’re more creative:

Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:

businesspeople with entropic networks full of weak ties were three times more innovative than people with small networks of close friends. Instead of getting stuck in the rut of conformity— thinking the same tired thoughts as everyone else— they were able to invent profitable new concepts.

There is something unsettling about Ruef’s data. We think of entrepreneurs, after all, as creative individuals. If someone has a brilliant idea for a new company, we assume that he or she is inherently more creative than the rest of us. This is why we idolize people like Bill Gates and Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey. But Ruef’s analysis suggests that this focus on the singular misses the real story of innovation. The most creative ideas, it turns out, don’t occur when we’re alone. Rather, they emerge from our social circles, from collections of acquaintances who inspire novel thoughts. Sometimes the most important people in life are the people we barely know.

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About Eric Barker