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How to Feel Awestruck (Courtesy of Allen Shawn)


galaxy ngc pic23941 300x219 How to Feel Awestruck (Courtesy of Allen Shawn)You know the feeling you get when you read a passage, and you’re just so happy that the author is alive (or once was) and put into words something you’ve groped towards but never quite articulated?

I feel that way about this quote from Allen Shawn’s book, Wish I Could Be There:

“We are born in denial. Like the pre-Copernicans of the Middle Ages, who thought that the earth was the center of the universe, we start by believing we are the center, that everything we see is but an extension of us, there to support us. It takes years for it to dawn on us that our parents merely participated in a process that they didn’t understand any better than we do. They no more “made” us than they made themselves or the trees outside the window. They were made as we were made. Neither they nor we are the center. There is no center.” (p. 196)

(Shawn has another gorgeous quote that I’ve used as the epigraph to my forthcoming book.  You’ll see.)

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Why You Don’t Like Being Teased


teasing 275x300 Why You Dont Like Being TeasedI tend to avoid people who favor barbed, teasing modes of interacting, even when I know they’re well-meaning.  Not only do their teases feel hurtful, but I’m not good at the snappy come-backs that teasing seems to call for. I find myself smiling as a way to cover up my hurt feelings (not an unusual reaction – this is one of smiling’s primary functions.)

I’m probably on the thin-skinned end of the spectrum. But Gretchen Rubin over at the Happiness Project has uncovered fascinating new research that suggests that my feelings about teasing are pretty common:  teasers tend to believe that their comments are less hurtful than the teasee thinks.

Here’s the research that she cites from David Dunning’s book, Self-Insight: Road Blocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself:

“People commonly tease each other, but it appears that people who are teased misunderstand the intentions of the person doing the teasing. Often, teasing is done in a spirit of affection and playfulness, and teasers attempt to convey these intentions through subtle nonverbal cues. However, those who are being teased tend to miss these benign aims. When they describe a time they teased their roommate, people tend to describe the action as more humorous and lighthearted than does the person being teased, who instead rates such incidents as more malicious and annoying. The good intentions of teasers are just not as obvious as teasers believe.” (Kruger, Gordon, Kuban) (page 129).

Gretchen also gives the example of a loving mother she knows who said to her daughter, “Hey, Messy Girl, are you planning to drag a brush through that rat’s nest on your head?” She knew the mother’s intentions were benign, but felt that she’d have been hurt if her mother said something like that to her.

This got me thinking about when teasing really is OK. For example, I sometimes call my three year old “Buster.” It’s an affectionate nickname, and he knows it. “Call me Buster again!” he sometimes tells me. Now when his friends come over they ask if I can call them Buster too.

Maybe the question is whether there’s anything passive-aggressive going on under the tease.  The Messy Girl’s mother was using teasing to get her daughter to be cleaner.  Some people use teasing to establish dominance – when I was in college, I noticed that guys did this with each other all the time.  They seemed to find these back-and-forths hilarious, even when they were on the receiving end of the tease. But now I wonder what they were really feeling.  (Any college guys out there, current or former?  What do you think?)

And what do you all think about teasing in general?

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Why Our Leaders Aren’t More Creative (and What to Do About It)


eureka 222x300 Why Our Leaders Arent More Creative (and What to Do About It)We are in love with the word “Eureka,” and for good reason.  Creativity is magic: the ability to create something out of nothing, to make connections that others don’t see. Everyone wants to be more creative.  Everyone wants to work for, or invest in, the world’s most creative companies.

Especially today. CEOs rank creativity as the most important leadership skill for successful organizations of the future, according to a survey last year by IBM’s Institute for Business Value.

Yet a brand new study out of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania suggests that the people who show true creativity – those whose ideas are not only useful but also original – are rarely seen as leaders. In the study, researchers asked employees at a multinational company in India to rate their colleagues’ creativity and leadership potential.  They asked college kids to do the same thing with their classmates.  In both cases, the most creative people were not perceived as leaders.

Jennifer Mueller, assistant professor of management at Wharton and lead author of the study, speculates that out-of-the-box thinkers tend not to do the things that traditional leaders do:  set goals, maintain the status quo, exude certainty. “I walk into a meeting and someone voices a creative idea,” she told CNN, “and someone else rolls their eyes and says ‘that’s the creative over there.’ Yet if you were to say, ‘Do you want a creative leader?’ They would say, ‘Of course!’.” (Hat tip to Ben Falchuk for alerting me to the CNN article.)

I suspect that another reason for the creativity gap in the leadership ranks is that many creative thinkers are introverts.  Studies suggest that true creativity requires solitude – and that the majority of spectacularly creative people are introverts, or at least comfortable with spending large chunks of time alone. (I go into a lot of depth on this in my forthcoming book.)

And people who like to spend time alone are decidedly at odds with today’s team-based organizational culture. Introverts are much less likely than extroverts to be groomed for leadership positions, according to management research.

If we’re really serious about a future of “innovation” – if this isn’t just a feel-good buzzword – then we need to come up with – ahem – creative solutions to this mismatch.  One idea is to think hard about what leaders really do. Today’s leaders need to have a dizzying variety of skills. They need to perform the traditional tasks, like making speeches, rallying troops, and setting goals. But in today’s world, they also need to feel in their bones what innovation means.

If the same person can’t do all these things at once – and let’s face it: how many people are both social and solitary, goal-oriented and wildly original? -  we should be thinking more about leadership-sharing, where two people divide leadership tasks according to their natural strengths and talents.

If you know of any examples of this model, I’d love to hear about them!

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8 Negotiation Tips For Introverts

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Negotiation 3 300x200 8 Negotiation Tips For Introverts

On Monday night, I gave a negotiation seminar at the Harvard Club in New York City. Since there were many introverts in the audience, we spent a lot of time talking about how to turn introverts’ perceived weaknesses into strengths. Here is a sneak peek of our discussion:

First, we did a warm-up exercise in which people broke into pairs. I asked one person in each pair to give his or her partner a dollar — and then to negotiate to get it back.  Invariably, when I conduct this exercise, I find that some people, instead of negotiating, simply tell their partners: “Oh, just go ahead and keep the dollar.” Or: “Here, of course you can have it back.”

1.  These people tend to be accommodators. They dislike conflict and would rather give in than have it out. If this describes you, then you’re probably aware of the downsides of this style – the tendency to yield, to be a doormat.

2.  But this style also has hidden advantages that you should be aware of.  Accommodators tend not to sweat the small stuff. They don’t get distracted by haggling over unimportant issues.  They are natural harmony-seekers.  And they’re more powerful than they realize, because when they do insist on something, people know they mean it.  They have natural credibility. When they say, quietly but firmly, that they can’t spend a penny more than X for their dream house, people believe them.

Here are a couple of ways to neutralize the downsides of this personality style:

3.  How to make opening offers: If you are a conflict-avoider or are simply inclined to fairness, you probably tend to choose as your opening gambit a number close to where you want to end up, a number you believe is fair.  “Then we can avoid the whole annoying negotiating dance,” you reason.  “Then my counterpart will see that I am a person of good faith, and s/he will treat me similarly.”

Well, maybe.  But often people feel better about the outcome of a negotiation if they had to work for it a little.  If you agree too quickly on a price, they may assume that they could’ve done better – and instead of feeling they were dealing with a person of good faith, they feel cheated!

4. Beware of “anchoring”:  Also, research shows (sadly enough) that people who start with extreme positions and concede slowly from there do better than those who begin reasonably and try not to budge. This is partly because of a phenomenon called “anchoring,” in which the extreme position becomes the psychological anchor of the negotiation. You spend all your time and energy negotiating about a ridiculous number that never should have been on the table in the first place.

5. When you notice someone trying to “anchor” you, neutralize them right away by using the “power of the flinch”.  React to the other person’s extreme offer with shock and disbelief: “Say what???” You don’t have to be demonstrative to do this.  A simple eyebrow raise will often work.  Or: “That’s way out of the ballpark.  Why don’t we start all over again with a more reasonable number.”

6. How to anchor: On the other hand, if you want to try out anchoring for yourself, you need to do your homework.  Pick a number that’s favorable to you, but not so crazy that you alienate the other side.  If you overshoot, you come across as naïve (you don’t understand the market) or obnoxious (who wants to deal with an over-reaching person?).

Be especially careful in salary negotiations or other situations where preserving the relationship is paramount.  Anchoring is often better suited to one-off negotiations, like buying a car.)

7. Splitting it down the middle: Do you tend to handle negotiations by saying “let’s split it down the middle and call it a day”?  If so, beware. That can work well, but only if you and your counterpart started out with similar mindsets.  If the other person staked out an extreme position and you began with a reasonable one, then splitting it down the middle will not serve you.

When others invite you to split it down the middle, don’t be afraid to point out when this would yield an unfair result.  The drive to fairness and reciprocity appears to be encoded in our DNA.  The invitation to split things 50/50 sounds so eminently fair and reciprocal that it can feel embarrassing to resist it. Neutralize your embarrassment by using the word “unfair” in your reply:  “That would lead to an unfair result.”

8. Are you naturally collaborative?  Studies suggest that introverts tend to prefer collaborative approaches to competitive ones. Happily, negotiation research also shows that people who successfully practice a collaborative style of negotiation get the best deals of all — because they expand the pie for everyone – including themselves.

In a future post, I’ll share some tips on how to negotiate collaboratively, including some advice on how to listen well.

(This post is intended as helpful advice, not legal counsel! The negotiation technique you use at any given moment depends of course on the particulars of the situation.)

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Are You Curious About Human Nature? Here’s the Dream Vacation For You.


brainday 243x300 Are You Curious About Human Nature? Heres the Dream Vacation For You.Who knew there was such a thing as “Neuroscience Boot Camp“?  It’s being held this summer at the University of Pennsylvania.  I can’t attend, but maybe you can!

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5 Tips For Finding Work You Love


EnviousEye 300x225 5 Tips For Finding Work You Love

In my last post, I talked about how introverts often spend so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms, that by the time they choose a career, it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences. So here are five tips on how to find work you love:

1.  Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You only envy those who have what you desire. Back when I was a Wall Street lawyer, some of my former law school classmates got together one evening, and compared notes on alumni career tracks. They spoke with admiration and, yes, jealousy, of a classmate who argued regularly before the Supreme Court. At first I felt critical of their envy. More power to that classmate! I thought, congratulating myself on my magnanimity. Then I realized that my largesse came cheap, because deep down I didn’t aspire to the accolades of lawyering. When I asked myself whom I did envy, the answer came back instantly. My college classmates who’d grown up to be writers, or psychologists.

2.  Ask yourself what you loved to do when you were a child. How did you answer the question of what you wanted to be when you grew up? The specific answer you gave may have been off the mark, but the underlying impulse was not. If you wanted to be a fireman, what did a fireman mean to you? A good man who rescued people in distress? A daredevil? Or the simple pleasure of operating a truck? If you wanted to be a dancer, was it because you got to wear a costume, or because you craved applause, or was it the pure joy of twirling around at lightning speed? You may have known more about who you were then than you do now.

3.  Pay attention to the work you gravitate to. When I was a lawyer, I never once volunteered to take on an extra corporate legal assignment, but I spent a lot of time doing pro bono work for a women’s leadership organization. I also sat on several law firm committees dedicated to mentoring and training young lawyers in the firm.  Now I am not the committee type (I’m an introvert!), but the goals of those committees lit me up, so that’s what I did. Today I’m doing a version of this kind of work with my writing and consulting, and I wake up every day excited to get started.

4.  What makes you cry? This one comes courtesy of Steve Pavlina, over at Personal Development for Smart People. He advises that you sit down with a blank sheet of paper, ask yourself what your life purpose is, and keep writing down answers until you come to the one that makes you cry.

I experienced a variation of this many years ago. I was having dinner with my good friend Katie Orenstein.  I mentioned that I’d always wanted to be a writer but could never find the time to actually write anything.  We were having a casual conversation, but I saw the depth of my emotions reflected back in Katie’s face. And I burst into tears.

Now here I am, with my first book coming out next year.

(Check out Katie’s inspiring Op-Ed project here; she may change your life too.)

5.  You may think I’m conflating work with life purpose here.  I am.  In an ideal world they will be one and the same.  For many people, however, it’s not an ideal world. In that case, try to earn your income from work that doesn’t take too much time and energy. Then spend the rest of your time doing what you truly love.

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Quiz: Are You An Introvert or An Extrovert (And Why Does it Matter)?


testtaking 210x300 Quiz: Are You An Introvert or An Extrovert (And Why Does it Matter)?

If you’re not sure where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, here is the place to assess yourself.  Answer each question True or False, choosing the answer that applies to you more often than not.

1.  I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.

2.  I often prefer to express myself in writing.

3.  I enjoy solitude.

4.  I seem to care about wealth, fame, and status less than my peers.

5.  I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in-depth about topics that matter to me.

6.  People tell me that I’m a good listener.

7.  I’m not a big risk-taker.

8.   I enjoy work that allows me to “dive in” with few interruptions.

9.   I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members.

10.  People describe me as “soft-spoken” or “mellow.”

11.   I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it’s finished.

12.   I dislike conflict.

13.  I do my best work on my own.

14. I tend to think before I speak.

15.  I feel drained after being out and about, even if I’ve enjoyed myself.

16.  I often let calls go through to voice-mail.

17.  If I had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.

18.  I don’t enjoy multi-tasking.

19.  I can concentrate easily.

20.  In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.

The more often you answered True, the more introverted you probably are.  Lots of Falses suggests you’re an extrovert. If you had a roughly equal number of Trues and Falses, then you may be an “ambivert” – yes, there really is such a word.

Why does it matter where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum?  Because introversion and extroversion are at the heart of human nature — one scientist refers to them as “the north and south of temperament.” And when you make life choices that are congruent with your temperament, you unleash vast stores of energy.

Conversely, when you spend too much time battling your own nature, the opposite happens — you deplete yourself.  I’ve met too many people living lives that didn’t suit them — introverts with frenetic social schedules, extroverts with jobs that required them to sit in front of their computers for hours at a stretch. We all have to do things that don’t come naturally — some of the time.  But it shouldn’t be all the time. It shouldn’t even be most of the time.

This is particularly important for introverts, who have often spent so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms that by the time they choose a career, or a calling, it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences. You may be uncomfortable in law school or in the marketing department, but no more so than you were back in junior high or summer camp.

Soon, I’ll post three tips for finding work you love.

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1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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