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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

A Lack of Confidence Isn't What’s Holding Back Working Women

This much we know: There’s a wide and stubborn gender gap, both in terms of pay and leadership opportunities. What we still can’t figure out are the causes. Some argue that inflexible workplaces are to blame. Others point to sexist cultural norms and even outright discrimination.

While the truth is probably a combination of all these factors, and more, another theory has gained ground in recent years. Sometimes referred to as the “confidence gap,” the theory holds that women feel less confident than men in their own abilities, and in a corporate world that rewards horn tooters more than the humble, women’s tendency to avoid promoting themselves and their accomplishments means they’re passed over for big projects, leadership roles, and pay raises. The solution, women are told, is simple: Go forth with the confidence of a man, and that corner office will be yours. If sales of books like Lean In and The Confidence Code are any indication, many women have swallowed this interpretation hook, line, and sinker.

There’s just one problem: There’s a strong body of research suggesting that women feel just as confident in their abilities and leadership skills as their male...

There’s An Optimal Time To Give Negative Feedback

Oh, the joys of being criticized.

There’s nothing like being told you’re bad at something, especially when the dig comes from someone you respect. Some, including my former employer, harangue you into believing that every piece of feedback is a gift—no matter how badly it stings. These people are probably right. They also make me want to slam my head into a wall.

The truth, of course, is that without criticism we cannot improve. However, negative feedback can easily trigger defensiveness, which is a great way to stifle learning of any kind. Even pointing out a spelling error may piss someone off, if delivered in the wrong way, or at the wrong time.

As a manager, these sensitivities can make giving feedback intimidating. Per recent research, 44% of managers say they find it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback, and one-fifth avoid the practice entirely. Even more surprisingly, nearly 40% of leaders conceded to never giving positive reinforcement, either.

However, research from Northwestern University suggests there may be an optimal time to give negative feedback. This timing has to do with our capacity for self-regulation, which plummets when we’re worn out.

In their 2016 study...

Moving The Office Snacks (Or Water Cooler) Can Have A Surprising Pay Off

When I joined tech startup Gusto in 2014, we were a scrappy team of 40 crowded into a rundown SF office space that comfortably fit, well, less than 40. We had two water coolers, one in the kitchen, and one in a main office area adjacent to a few couches that we affectionately called the “living room.” When the kitchen water cooler broke, the living room cooler was moved to the kitchen. You’d think that moving it to the next room, a leisurely 10-second walk away, wouldn’t be a significant change, but the new location turned out to have surprisingly large reverberations that drove home the power of the literal, and proverbial water cooler.

Because of the added distance, we no longer engaged in short conversations by the water cooler. And with less water intake, we had fewer encounters while waiting in line for our single stall bathroom.

With these two conversation spots missing, I found I didn’t ask “How’s your day going?” or “What are you working on?” as often. I missed hearing about my colleagues’ last amazing customer calls or tricky engineering bug fixes. Overall, it seemed harder to keep up with what was...

A Psychologist’s Trick to Being More Likable

Few situations are as anxiety-provoking as job interviews or first dates. Without appearing desperate, you’re trying to convince a stranger that you’re more worthy of their time, money, attention, and affection than a slew of strangers who you’ve probably never met. It’s awkward, and you’re probably wearing uncomfortable clothes.

Many of us respond to this pressure, which psychologists call “impression management,” by highlighting our successes and talents. This self-selling can be exceedingly obnoxious: “I’m a natural-born leader,” a date once proclaimed, before reminding me for the third time that he worked at Goldman Sachs.

But more often than not, sharing our talents is a well-intentioned instinct. From childhood on, we’re praised for earning high marks, winning games, and earning promotions. It’s no surprise our self-confidence (or lack thereof) is intimately tied with quantifiable success, and the romantic delusion of “innate” talent.

However, a new study from the City University of London’s Cass Business School, published in the journal Basic and Applied Psychology, suggests we’re approaching impression management all wrong, especially on interviews and dates. Instead of emphasizing success, we’d be better off focusing on effort, the seemingly less-flattering flip...

How To Make Small Talk Even If It Scares You

Most job seekers understand that writing resumes and cover letters, answering interview questions, and networking are skills worth developing. As the leader of a college career center, I think it’s time to add making good small talk to the list.

As students, and the rest of us, spend more time focused on the instant gratification of our devices, the long game of small talk is becoming something of a lost art.

But it is still important. Today’s careers continue to evolve or disappear at an accelerated pace. The ability to converse effectively—especially in informal situations—is now a crucial competitive advantage.

Like most skills, mastering small talk takes work. Here are a handful of starting principles to guide you.

There’s a person attached to every opportunity

In a job interview it’s clear that in order to get the job, you need to impress the interviewer. But the same is also true of every opportunity, you might just not know it yet. By making small talk, you can learn what opportunities that people who you meet might give you access to, and you can gain that access by building trust through—you guessed it—small talk...