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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...

How to Achieve Your Agency’s Objectives One Meeting at a Time

The concept of data-driven meetings was popularized in the mid-1990s by the New York City Police Department, which dubbed them “CompStat” meetings. Through the systematic analysis of trends, they were seen to contribute to a significant drop in crime and the concept was eagerly replicated by other cities (Citi-Stat) and a number of states (State-Stat). Harvard professor Bob Behn studied this phenomenon and wrote a book about “Performance-Stat” as a leadership style and way of thinking and behaving, not just an administrative process innovation.

At the federal level, data-driven meetings became more prevalent at the agency level beginning in 2009, according to a 2011 report by Harry Hatry and Elizabeth Davies of the Urban Institute.  Their use was reinforced by requirements in the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010, which the Government Accountability Office assessed in a 2015 report. Both the Urban Institute and GAO reported positive effects and identified some best practices.

The spread of management innovations, like data-driven reviews, is oftentimes problematic in different policy, geographic, and cultural settings. Sometimes an innovation transfers well, other times, not so well. But the spread of data-driven meetings quickly found an international following.

International Approaches

The United Kingdom created its own version...

Who Should You Trust? Psychologists Have a Surprising Answer

Can you ever really know who to trust at the office?

While there’s tons of research on the actions and behaviors that create trust, few studies have successfully identified what makes some people more trustworthy than others to begin with. New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychologydoes just that, showing that “guilt proneness”—a person’s tendency to anticipate feeling guilty—is a surprisingly powerful indicator of trustworthiness.

The researchers, from the business schools at the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Carnegie Mellon, sought to predict trustworthy behaviors and intentions, especially within an organizational context. They set up economic games and surveys to measure traits like extraversion, openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and guilt-proneness.

In one exercise, colloquially known as the “trust game,” participants received money from a partner, and were then told the money had doubled in value. The participant is expected to return half of the earnings to their partner, though they can choose to keep the money for themselves. In another game, the participant could either lie or tell the truth about a set of information, which their partner would then rely on to make a decision. The participant...

Why My Generation Isn’t Serving in Government

Why aren’t more young people going into government service? It’s a question that vexes policymakers and college administrators across the country. They’d like to see the best and brightest go directly into the public service pipeline. But they’re not—and partly as a result, the federal workforce is rapidly aging.

A 2017 Politico analysis found that only 17 percent of the federal workforce was under 35 years old, compared to 40 percent in the private sector. Workers under the age of 24 make up only 1.2 percent of the federal workforce, as opposed to 13 percent in private sector jobs.

Government Executive reported recently on how federal agencies are preparing for a pending exodus of older employees, and a corresponding loss of decades of institutional knowledge. More than 20 percent of employees are eligible for retirement at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection Agency, Treasury Department and NASA.

The retirement wave hasn’t hit yet, but it’s  likely the federal government will have difficulty replacing all of those workers. The problem is, agencies are failing to attract younger people.

Take my alma mater, Princeton University, as an example. Out of the...

Good Managers Learn to Lift People Up

Even the best leaders can be overly critical, finding fault in their employees and allowing their own negativity to mask their best selves. Certainly, there is a place for criticism, but it must have enough positive reinforcement to counter-balance it. That’s just being realistic.

Why is this balance important to you as a leader? Because you set the tone. Your employees are watching for cues on how they should behave, and if that tone is overly negative, it catches on like a virus. If you want a culture that is more positive, then you have to be more positive.

Notice that I didn’t say, “you have to act more positive”, because if you don’t feel positive and are only putting on a show, others will see through that.

Being positive isn’t work of the intellect, it’s work of the heart. That means that emotionally, you need to feel positive to be able to pull off more positivity.

I get it, your job is hard. You might be going through tough times. These things make it easy to blame what’s outside of you for your negative and critical attitude. So what does it take to...