Career “Planning” = Career “Improvisation”

In “VUCA world,” described by the U.S. Army War College as volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous environments, current career “planning” occurs under rapidly-shifting conditions more appropriate for an agile strategy.

As a result, it is increasingly difficult to  meaningfully respond to the frequently-asked interview question: “What are your career plans for the next five years?

Kathleen Eisenhardt

Planning is most suited to relatively certain circumstances when processes and decisions are linear, argued Stanford’s Kathleen Eisenhardt and Behnam Tabrizi in their analysis of global computer product innovation.

In contrast, frequently-changing or uncertain conditions with many iterative modifications require improvisation coupled with frequent testing.

Behnam Tabrizi

Iterative exploration, rapid prototyping/experimentation, and testing characteristic of agile development and design thinking are more suited for rapid changes in economic, political, and technology changes that affect known career paths.

Alison Maitland

University of London’s Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson forecast Future Work: How Businesses Can Adapt and Thrive In the New World of Work,
and related books by Deloitte’s Cathy BenkoMolly Anderson, with Anne Weisberg of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP consider The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work and Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace with Today’s Nontraditional Workforce.

-*When have you found it more useful to “improvise” instead of “plan” your career?
-*What are the benefits and drawbacks of career “improvisation”?

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Performance Excellence linked to Preventing Failures, Corrective Coaching

Atul Gawande

Simple behavior changes, such as following a structured checklist, can prevent crucial workplace errors and increase quality in medical settings, found Harvard’s Atul Gawande.

He found that people effectively improved their performance when they recognized weaknesses in organizational processes, and took proactive steps to remedy these shortcomings.

Three elements of better performance can be applied across industries:

  • Diligence – Attending to details can prevent errors and overcome obstacles.
    Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right suggests best ways to structure these memory aids,
  • Doing Right –Ensuring that skill, will, and incentives are aligned to drive excellent performance,
  • IngenuityDeliberately monitoring potential failures, continuously seeking innovative ways to improve performance and solutions.

These elements can be improved with attentive observation and feedback to prevent errors of omission when people don’t:

  • Know enough (ignorance),
  • Make proper use of what they know (ineptitude).

Ignorance occurs less frequently than ineptitude because relevant information is widely available, Gawande noted.
He suggested that both errors can be improved by systematic analysis and consistent use of tools like checklists.

Geoffrey Smart

Checklist-based analysis was also linked to Internal Rate of Return (IRR) in Geoffrey Smart’s study of investments by Venture Capital (VC) firms,

He found a correlation between IRR and leadership effectiveness in new investment ventures.
Selecting capable leaders is critical to business outcomes, so Smart also evaluated VC firms’ typical approach to assessing potential leaders:

  • The Art Critic is the most frequent approach in which the VC assesses leadership talent at a glance, intuitively, based on extensive experience,
  • The Sponge conducts extensive due diligence, then decides based on intuition,
  • The Prosecutor interrogates the candidate, tests with challenging questions and hypothetical situations,
  • The Suitor woos the candidate instead of analyzing capabilities and fit,
  • The Terminator eliminates the evaluation because the venture firm replaces the company’s originators,
  • The Infiltrator becomes a “participant-observer” in an immersive, time-consuming experientially-based assessment,
  • The Airline Captain uses a formal checklist to prevent past mistakes.
    This last approach was linked to the highest average Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for the new ventures.
    In addition, this strategy was significantly less likely to result in later terminating senior managers.

Venture Capitalists in these studies reported that two of their most significant mistakes were:

  • Investing insufficient time in talent analysis,
  • Being influenced by “halo effect” in evaluating candidates.

Systematic reminders to execute all elements required for expert performance can prevent failure and signal potential failure points.

-*How do you improve performance?
-*What value do you find in expert coaching?

Related Post:
Developing a SMARTER Mindset for Resilience, Emotional Intelligence – Part 2

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Four Career Trajectories: Linear, Expert, Spiral, Transitory

Kenneth Brousseau

Kenneth Brousseau

Successful careers can follow forms other than “up or out,” according to Decision Dynamics’ Kenneth Brousseau, Michael Driver of USC, with Lund University’s Kristina Eneroth, and Rikard Larsson.

Their “pluralistic career concept framework” classified careers as:

Four Career Concepts

Four Career Concepts

LinearTraditional upward movement, with variable job role tenure, and motivated by power and achievement.

Behavioral competencies include leadership, competitiveness, cost-efficiency, logistics management, profit orientation.

This career concept is most seen in tall hierarchies with a narrow span of control.

Michael Driver

Michael Driver

Expert – Little movement and long role tenure due to deepening expertise in a narrow discipline.

Motives include mastery, expertise, and security.
Meaningful rewards are continued training, benefits, recognition.

Competencies are quality, commitment, reliability, technical competence, stability orientation.
This career concept is well-matched to flat functional organizations.

Career Motives, Competencies

Career Motives, Competencies

SpiralLateral movement to broaden functional exposure, with seven to ten year tenure in roles.

Motivated by personal growth, creativity, and suited to matrix organizations with cross-functional teams, this pattern is seen in loose, temporary team structures.

Rewards include cross-functional lateral assignments and training.
Key competencies include creativity, teamwork, skill diversity, lateral coordination, people development.

Transitory – Lateral moves with three to five year tenures are motivated by desire for variety, independence.
Most often found in temporary team structures, behavioral skills include speed, networking, adaptability, fast learning, project focus.
Meaningful rewards are job rotation, temporary assignments, immediate cash bonuses.

This team’s research was distilled into assessment tools focused on career “fit” with an organization’s structure and objectives.

Timothy Butler

Timothy Butler

A similar emphasis on cultural fit is found in CareerLeader Inventory, based on Timothy Butler and James Waldroop’s research at Harvard Business School.

James Waldroop

James Waldroop

-*Which of the four career trajectories seems most like yours?

-*Which career assessment tools have you found most useful to determine your skills, interests, and best-fit organizational context?

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Ask a Narcissist

Confidence is correlated with career effectiveness and advancement.
However, people who exhibit too much of a good thing may seem “narcissistic.”

Jean Twenge

Jean Twenge

The narcissistic personality is characterized by:

-Inflated views of the self,
-Grandiosity,
-Self-focus and vanity,
-Self-importance,

according to San Diego State University’s Jean M. Twenge, with Sara Konrath and Brad J. Bushman of University of Michigan, collaborating with University of South Alabama’s Joshua D. Foster, and Keith Campbell of University of Georgia,

Calvin S Hall

Calvin S Hall

One well-validated assessment instrument to identify narcissism is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, developed by University of California Berkeley’s Robert Raskin and Calvin S. Hall.

Sara Konrath

Sara Konrath

Raskin and UC Berkeley colleague, Howard Terry examined responses from more than 1000 volunteers and found seven constructs related to narcissism:

  • Authority,
  • Exhibitionism,
  • Superiority,
  • Vanity,
  • Exploitativeness,
  • Entitlement,
  • Self-Sufficiency.
Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary

They related ratings of “self” and “ideal self” to participants’ responses on the Leary Interpersonal Check List, developed by Harvard’s Timothy Leary before he investigated psychedelic drugs.

Brian P Meier

Brian P Meier

An alternative to Leary’s lengthy NPI was developed by University of Michigan’s Sara Konrath, Brian P. Meier of Gettysburg College, and Ohio State’s Brad J. Bushman of Indiana University.
The Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS) measures grandiosity, entitlement, and low empathy characteristic of “narcissistic” behavior.

The team asked more than 2,200 participants to rate their answer to a single question on a scale of one to seven: To what extent do you agree with this statement? “I am a narcissist.”

Brad J Bushman

Brad J Bushman

Konrath’s team demonstrated that the Single Item Narcissism Scale is a valid, reliable alternative to longer narcissism scales because it is significantly correlated with scores on the NPI and is uncorrelated with social desirability.

Erika Carlson

Erika Carlson

People who score high on the NPI and SINS say that they are more arrogant, condescending, argumentative, critical, and prone to brag than people who score low on the NPI, according to University of Toronto’s Erika Carlson.

Narcissism was also related in Konrath’s validation studies to:

People who scored high for narcissism also showed behaviors that can be problematic at work:

However, people who scored high for narcissism displayed positive attributes including:

Interacting with a narcissist in the workplace can be challenging, and a previous blog post identifies recommended strategies.

-*How do you identify narcissists in the workplace and in personal life?
-*What are more effective ways to work with them?

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Negotiation Drama: Strategic Umbrage, Line-Crossing Illusion, and Assertiveness Biases

Daniel R Ames

Daniel R Ames

Aligning assertiveness style to negotiation situations can determine success in bargaining, according to Columbia University’s Daniel Ames and Abbie Wazlawek.

Abbie Wazlawek

Abbie Wazlawek

Earlier, Ames and Stanford’s Frank Flynn reported that moderate levels of assertiveness are associated with career advancement, and with effective negotiation and influence in conflict situations.
They also found that observers provided consistent ratings of managerial under-assertiveness and over-assertiveness.

Francis Flynn

Francis Flynn

However, most people do not accurately assess others’ view of their assertiveness in specific situations.
Over-assertive individuals tend to have less-accurate self-perception than less assertive people, and both groups experience “self-awareness blindness.

These inaccurate self-perceptions may develop from polite yet inaccurate feedback from others.

More than 80% of participants reported that they had expressed greater objections than they actually felt to influence the negotiation, and said they observed similarly exaggerated objections by their negotiation partners.

Daniel Ames Assertiveness

Self-awareness resulted in most favorable negotiation outcomes: More than 80% of negotiators rated by others and by themselves as “appropriately assertive in the situation” negotiated greatest value to both parties.

Ames Assertiveness U Curve
Ames and Watzlawek noted that negotiation partners may misperceive others view of their strategic umbrage displays in the line-crossing illusion.

This mismatch between negotiation partners’ ratings of appropriate assertiveness was linked with poorer negotiation outcomes:  Nearly 60% of negotiators who were rated as appropriately assertive but felt over-assertive (line-crossing illusion) negotiated the inferior deals for themselves and their counterparts.

This suggests that disingenuous emotional displays of strategic umbrage lead negotiation partners to seek the first acceptable deal, rather than pushing for an optimal deal.

Jeffrey Kern

Jeffrey Kern

To improve accuracy of meta-perception – perception of other people’s perception of one’s own assertiveness style – Ames and Wazlawek suggested:

-Participate in 360 degree feedback,

-Increase skill in listening for content and meaning,

Consider whether negotiation proposals are reasonable in light of alternatives,

-Request feedback on reactions to “strategic umbrage” displays to better understand perceptions of “offer reasonableness,

-Evaluate costs and benefits of specific assertiveness styles:

Gary Yukl

Over-assertiveness may provide the benefit of “claiming value” in a negotiation but may lead to ruptured interpersonal relationships and ill-will, according to Jeffrey M. Kern of Texas A&M, SUNY’s Cecilia Falbe and Gary Yukl.

Cultural norms for assertiveness regulation in “low context” cultures like Israel, where dramatic displays are frequent and expected in negotiations.
In contrast, “high context” cultures like Japan, require more nuanced assertiveness, with fewer direct disagreements and “strategic umbrage” displays, according to Edward T. Hall, then of the U.S. Department of State.

Edward T Hall

Edward T Hall

Likewise, under-assertiveness may minimize interpersonal conflict, but may lead to poorer negotiation outcomes and undermined credibility in future interactions, according to Ames’ related research.

To augment a less assertiveness style:

  • Set slightly higher goals,
  • Reconsider assumptions that greater assertion leads to conflict,
  • Consider that proactivity may lead to increased respect and improved outcomes,
  • Assess the outcome of collaborating with more assertive others.

To modulate a more assertiveness style:

  • Make slight concessions to increase rapport and trust with others,
  • Observe and evaluate the impact of collaborating with less assertive others.

The line-crossing illusion is an example of a self-perception bias in which personal ratings of behavior may not match other people’s perceptions, and others’ behaviors can reduce one’s own confidence and assertiveness.

*How do you reduce the risk of developing the line-crossing illusion in response to other people’s displays of “strategic umbrage”?

*How do you match your degree of assertiveness to negotiation situations?

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Organizational Trust vs “Only the Paranoid Survive”

Organizational life can be punctuated by uncertainty, leading to mistrust.

Andy Grove

Andy Grove

Intel’s former Chairman, Andy Grove, explained his success in guiding the company through a critical product flaw, which threatened Intel’s brand value, noting “Only the Paranoid Survive.

Christel Lane

Christel Lane

However, organizational paranoia’s counterpoint, trust, is associated with productivity, creative problem-solving, employee commitment and retention, found University of Cambridge’s Christel Lane and Reinhardt Bachman of University of Surrey.

Reinhard Bachmann

Reinhard Bachmann

Likewise, Alan Fox catalogued negative consequences of suspicion in work settings.
Stanford’s Roderick Kramer offered support and caveats to Grove’s pro-paranoia mantra by noting that people in organizations often misconstrue and overvalue suspicions, leading to low collaboration and isolation at work.

Roderick Kramer

Roderick Kramer

He observed that people with fewer resources or less power may engage in self-protective behaviors, accompanied by increased hypervigilance, consistent with findings by Princeton’s Susan Fiske.

Susan Fiske

Susan Fiske

These strategies increase the possibility of “paranoid social cognition,” and may lead people to engage in:

-Personalized construal of interactions,

-Sinister attribution error,

-Perception of conspiracy, highlighted by Rutgers’ Ted Goertzel.

Ted Goertzel

Ted Goertzel

To balance “prudent paranoia” with organizational trust, Kramer recommends considering alternate interpretations from people likely to hold different views, while considering “reality as an hypothesis.”

-*How do you balance organizational trust and “prudent paranoia”?

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Gender Transitions Demonstrate Continuing Gender Differences in Pay, Workplace Experience

People who change gender demonstrate the impact of gender on workplace experience and compensation, while holding constant the person’s education and experience.

Two Stanford professors’ experience in gender transition highlight findings by University of Chicago’s Kristen Schilt.

Joan Roughgarden

Joan Roughgarden – Jonathan Roughgarden

Stanford’s Joan Roughgarden, was an evolutionary biologist for more than 25 years as Jonathan Roughgarden before she made her male-to-female (MTF) transition.
Known for her work integrating evolutionary theory with Christian beliefs (“theistic evolutionism”), she reported feeling less able to make bold hypotheses and no longer had “the right to be wrong.”

Her experience contrasts with Stanford colleague, neurobiologist Ben Barres, who made scientific contributions as Barbara Barres until he was more than 40.

Barbara Barres - Ben Barres

Barbara Barres – Ben Barres

After his female-to-male (FTM) transition, Ben delivered a lecture at the  Whitehead Institute, where an audience member commented, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but, then, his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Schilt surveyed FTM and MTF to compare earnings and employment experiences before and after gender transitions.
with questions similar to 2002 Current Population Survey (CPS) survey items:

  • Last job before gender transition,
  • First job after gender transition,
  • Most recent job.
Kristen Schilt

Kristen Schilt

Female-to-male transsexuals (FTMs) reported that as men, they received more authority, reward, and respect in the workplace than they received as women, even when they remained in the same jobs.

Height and skin color affected potential advantages enjoyed by FTM.

Tall, white FTMs experienced greater benefits than short FTMs and FTMs of color.
In contrast, MTF reported reduced authority and pay, and often harassment and termination.

University of Illinois’s Donald McCloskey, for example, was told by his department chair – “in jest” – that he could expect a salary reduction when he became Deirdre McCloskey.

Deirdre McCloskey

Deirdre McCloskey

However, salary reduction was no joke for MTFs in Schilt’s survey sample.
Participants reported significant losses of 12% in hourly earnings after becoming female.

Additionally, MTFs transitioned on average 10 years later than FTMs, delaying the loss of labor market advantages attributable to male gender.

FTMs, however, experienced no change in earnings or small positive increases up to 7.5% in earnings after transitioning to becoming men.

Any gender transition was associated with risks of harassment and discrimination, reported more frequently in “blue-collar” jobs, particularly for those with “non-normative” appearance and not consistently “passing” as the other gender.

These “naturalistic experiments” confirm continuing gender-based pay discrepancies.

-*To what extent have you observed these gender-linked differences in compensation and workplace credibility?

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“High-Commitment” Workplaces Enhance Creative Problem Solving, Innovation

Organizations recognize the importance of continuous innovation to grow revenues.

Richard E. Walton

Richard E. Walton

Some have experimented with “high-commitment work systems (HCWS)” described by Harvard’s Richard E. Walton, as a “lever” to positively influence employee productivity, retention, and innovation.

High-commitment employee benefits are designed to elicit employees’ reciprocal commitment and intrinsic motivation to support the organization’s objectives.
These programs may include:

  • Employee participation initiatives,
  • Team rewards,
  • Profit sharing,
  • Career development training,
  • Internal transfer opportunities,
  • Internal advancement opportunities, with preference over external candidates,
  • Employment ”security.”
Song Chang

Song Chang

Organizations with these high-commitment employee programs, measured by High Commitment Work System Scale, had innovative employees who worked with cohesive teams on complex tasks in a study of more than 50 technology firms in China by Song Chang of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, with Nanjing University’s Liangding Jia and Yahua Cai, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Riki Takeuchi.

Zhixing Xiao

Zhixing Xiao

High-commitment work systems (HCWS)” can occur in organizations with varying approaches to human capital management, described by China Europe International Business School’s Zhixing Xiao and Anne S. Tsui of Arizona State University:

  • Anne Tsui

    Anne Tsui

    Mutual-investment (or organization-focused) strategies combine:
    Economic exchanges with
    Social exchanges including implied trust and reciprocity leading to
    Expectations of employment security,

David Walsh

David Walsh

Although this job-focused approach does not imply trust or reciprocity, many contract employers offer employee benefits similar to those in “high-commitment” workplaces.

Joshua Schwartz

Joshua Schwartz

This contrast between employers’ implied social contract by offering high-commitment benefits with at-will employment may appear incongruous to employees.
The result may be confusion, cynicism or disengagement.

David Walsh-Joshua Schwartz At Will Exceptions MapHigh-commitment benefit programs can enable “creative situations,” where individual motivation can contribute to commercial innovation.

Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile

Organizations that establish creative work situations typically offer some high-commitment employee programs, according to Harvard’s Teresa Amabile:

  • Job rotation,
  • Training to increase subject matter expertise,
  • Job autonomy,
  • Working in teams to solve problems and deliver products,
  • Participative management.

Despite not guaranteeing employment tenure, these programs were associated with:

  • Egalitarian culture,
  • High trust,
  • Support for disrupting status quo.

Song Chang 2High-commitment employee programs can lead to increased innovation and related commercial opportunities.

However, organizations with at-will employment practices and high-commitment benefits can benefit from clearly communicating the limits of their commitments to avoid adverse employee reactions.

-*What are most effective ways to balance and integrate coexisting at-will employment policies with “high-commitment work systems”?


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Leader Self-Efficacy Beliefs Determine Impact of Challenging Work Assignments

Stephen Courtright

Stephen Courtright

“High potential” employees often receive “stretch assignments” to expand their organizational knowledge, skills, and contacts.

Amy Colbert

Amy Colbert

Personal leadership self-efficacy (LSE) expectations about ability to deliver successful outcomes determine the actual results, reported Texas A&M’s Stephen H. Courtright, Amy E. Colbert of University of Iowa, and Daejeong Choi of University of Melbourne in their study of more than 150 managers and 600 directors at a Fortune 500 financial services company.

Daejeong Choi

Daejeong Choi

Individuals develop self efficacy, according to Stanford’s Albert Bandura, in response to:

  • Personal accomplishments and mastery,
  • Observing others’ behaviors, experiences, and outcomes,
  • Corrective feedback from others via coaching and mentoring,
  • Mood and physiological factors.
Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura

Bandura proposed that people’s expectations about their personal efficacy determines whether they:

  • Use coping behavior when encountering difficulties,
  • Apply exceptional effort in meeting challenges,
  • Persist for long periods when encountering obstacles.

These behaviors lead to the “virtuous cycle” of increased self-efficacy beliefs.

Laura Paglis Dwyer

Laura Paglis Dwyer

A measure of leadership self-efficacy (LSE), developed by University of Evansville’s Laura L. Paglis Dwyer and Stephen G. Green of Purdue University, evaluates a leader’s skill in:

  • Direction-setting,
  • Gaining followers’ commitment,
  • Overcoming obstacles to change.
Sean Hanna

Sean Hanna

Two additional Leader Self Efficacy characteristics were proposed by United States Military Academy’s Sean T. Hannah with Bruce Avolio, Fred Luthans, and Peter D. Harms of University of Nebraska:

  • Agency,” characterized by intentionally initiating action and exerting positive influence,
  • Confidence.
Jesus Tanguma

Jesus Tanguma

Women demonstrated significantly lower leadership self-efficacy beliefs than men in research by University of Houston’s Michael J. McCormick, Jesús Tanguma
, and Anita Sohn López-Forment.

However, these lower leadership self-efficacy beliefs can be modified with training, coaching, mentoring, and cognitive restructuring practice.

Courtright’s team reinforced that beliefs result from previous experiences can determine future outcomes, suggesting the importance of monitoring and managing these self-efficacy beliefs.

-*How do you maintain robust Leadership Self-Efficacy expectations even after disappointments and setbacks?

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“Surface Acting” At Work Leads to Stress Spillover

David Wagner

David Wagner

Employers, employees, and benefits providers recognize that experiences at work can affect employees’ quality of life outside of work.
This linkage has spawned workplace 
Employee Assistance Programs, on-site medical centers, concierges, meals, and fitness centers in the US.

Christopher Barnes

Christopher Barnes

When employees mask their true feelings in work situations, they engage in “surface acting” — displaying appropriate, but unfelt facial expressions, verbal interactions, and body language.

Brent Scott

Brent Scott

Surface acting at work was associated with emotional exhaustion, work-to-family conflict, and insomnia outside of work for more than 70 volunteers in a high stress public service occupation, according to Singapore Management University’s David T. Wagner, Christopher M. Barnes of University of Washington, and Brent A. Scott of Michigan State University.

Arlie Hochschild

Arlie Hochschild

Emotional labor” was Arlie Hochshild’s earlier term for “surface acting” in customer service interactions when employees present prescribed verbalizations and emotions.

She contrasted “surface acting” with “deep acting” in which the person:

  • Exhibits the emotion actually felt,
  • Uses past emotional experiences to elicit real emotion and empathic connection with others, in a form of “organizational method acting.
Christina Maslach

Christina Maslach

Surface acting can lead to occupational “burnout,” characterized by emotional exhaustion, detachment from others, and reduced workplace performance, noted University of California Berkeley’s Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson.

Céleste Brotheridge

Céleste Brotheridge

In contrast, high emotional labor with deep acting was associated with a greater sense of personal accomplishment in research by University of Regina’s Celeste Brotheridge and Alicia Grandey of Penn State.

Veikko Surakka

Veikko Surakka

Recipients of “surface acting” are usually accurately detect that it’s an inauthentic display, according to University of Tampere Veikko Surakka and Jari K Hietanen of University of Helsinki.

Patricia Hewlin

Patricia Hewlin

Similarly, “Facades of Conformity,” impression management, and
unwilling compliance are associated with generalized stress and reduced quality of life outside of work, according to Georgetown’s Patricia Hewlin, University of Lethbridge’s Karen H. Hunter, Andrew A. Luchak of University of Alberta, and Athabasca University’s Kay Devine.

Kay Devine

Kay Devine

  • Terence Mitchell

    Impression management, characterized by ingratiating behaviors in two-person relationships, can influence career outcomes, according to Georgia Tech’s Robert C. Liden and Terence R. Mitchell of University of Washington.

  • Compliance, identified by publicly stating changed beliefs in response to external pressures, without modifying actual personal convictions, according to Leon Festinger.
Leon Festinger

Leon Festinger

Most people at work encounter situations in which they must behave in “appropriate” ways inconsistent with their true feelings, and may experience similar stress spillover from “surface acting” at work.

-*How do you prevent “burnout” when workplace settings seem to require “surface acting”?


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