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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Almost every day we see a news story about federal workers who are retiring or quitting. Whether about the high rate of employees leaving the State Department or about some prominent leader stepping down, an increased number of federal employees are moving on from the government they have served.

Are you thinking about joining them? What are the implications for yourself, your family, and your country? Here are some things to consider.

The Risk

Federal workers typically are viewed as risk averse. Overall, I think that tends to be true. While some are risk takers, as a group, many are not.

How much risk are you willing to tolerate? In government, you have excellent health and vacation benefits, a defined benefit pension, a tax-deferred retirement savings plan, and likely a satisfactory salary. You probably have great job security, especially if you’re a veteran or if you have many years of federal service.  

Leaving government service will probably lead to greater uncertainty. Are you ready for that risk?  Ask yourself:

  • How much economic risk are you willing to tolerate?
  • Are you comfortable with a period of career instability?
  • What is your Plan B if you run into major problems after...

The Myth of 'Learning Styles'

In the early ‘90s, a New Zealand man named Neil Fleming decided to sort through something that had puzzled him during his time monitoring classrooms as a school inspector. In the course of watching 9,000 different classes, he noticed that only some teachers were able to reach each and every one of their students. What were they doing differently?

Fleming zeroed in on how it is that people like to be presented information. For example, when asking for directions, do you prefer to be told where to go or to have a map sketched for you?

Today, 16 questions like this comprise the vark questionnaire that Fleming developed to determine someone’s “learning style.” Vark, which stands for “Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic," sorts students into those who learn best visually, through aural or heard information, through reading, or through “kinesthetic” experiences.  (“I learned much later that vark is Dutch for “pig,” Fleming wrote later, “and I could not get a website called vark.com because a pet shop in Pennsylvania used it for selling aardvarks—earth pigs!”)

He wasn’t the first to suggest that people have different “learning styles”—past theories included the reading-less “VAK” and something...

How To Run a Meeting Where Everyone Is Mad At You

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday to give much-anticipated testimony on his company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

It’s wasn't going to be a comfortable setting. Zuckerberg runs a giant company whose business model has been accused of undermining the health of democracy. His prepared remarks left many key questions unanswered. Many of his questioners were justifiably outraged, and not a few were looking to score some political points of their own by making the tech boss squirm.

Most meetings won’t be as high-profile as a Congressional hearing, but facing a room full of people who are unhappy with the situation—or with you—and unafraid to ask questions is not an easy experience in any setting. Here’s how to deal with that predicament:

Take a deep breath

Being grilled is stressful, and stress activates the “fight or flight” response that hijacks the part of your brain that’s capable of constructing a rational, productive response. To prevent this, take a deep breath before each question and before each answer. It’ll calm your nerves, reduce the tense and defensive mannerisms that can undermine your message, and help you...

Women: Watch Out For The 'Trump Effect' In Negotiations

“My style of deal-making is quite simple,” wrote Donald Trump—or rather, his ghostwriter—in the 1987 book Trump: The Art of the Deal. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”

The Art of the Deal is a snapshot of the aggressive, posturing, I-win-you-lose style of negotiation one associates with boardrooms in the 1980s and ‘90s. Known in business textbook-speak as distributive bargaining, this mindset assumes that resources are scarce and whatever one party gets, the other can’t have. It’s great if what you want is to walk out feeling not only that you’ve won but that you’ve crushed the other party.

It’s not so great if you want an ongoing relationship with the person or people you’re negotiating against.

An alternative model is integrative bargaining. Popularized in the 1981 book Getting to Yes and widely adopted since, this negotiation style identifies what each party actually wants, and looks for opportunities to satisfy those needs. For example, a mediator resolving a standoff between union and management might identify non-monetary benefits that are valuable to workers and allow management to stay on...

How to Serve a President You Don’t Like

It is no secret that the vast majority of Washingtonians dislike our current president. Maybe there's some secret poll going about and the proportion is less than awful—perhaps it's 75-25 opposed, instead of 98-2. But here's a quick newsflash, in case this fact isn't clear: By default in every administration, some federal employees will be "yuge" proponents of the winning candidate, and others will truly dislike the person. They may even think the president is the worst thing ever to happen to the country and does not deserve to be in office.

But you do not have to like the president to serve well, to make your agency more functional, and to deliver great service to the American public. When President Obama took office in 2009, it was a very happy moment for me as a citizen, at the time. But even when my feelings changed—and over time they did change sharply—I was still able to serve, and serve well. Because whatever program I was working on, it had little or nothing to do with the president and everything to do with the citizen. The more effectively and efficiently I contributed, and helped...