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We all face uncomfortable situations at work. By learning how to navigate them, leaders can boost their teams' productivity, creativity, and innovation.

Author of Jerks at Work and Job Therapy | NYU Professor of Psychology

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The problem with being too nice at work (17:44)

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How do you communicate effectively in uncomfortable situations at work? For anyone who’s ever had to give difficult feedback or mediate team disagreements, Dr. Tessa West has good news: communication is a learnable skill. An NYU Psychology professor, the author of Jerks at Work, and a star in the field of social psychology, Tessa has spent 20 years researching the scientific, surprisingly simple ways we can communicate better in the workplace. How can diverse teams unlock their full potential? How do you give honest feedback—feedback that sticks, that improves and inspires—to employees and even to bosses? Tessa’s dynamic talks and practical takeaways offer outsized rewards: lower stress levels, higher productivity, and stronger teams.

Tessa West is a Professor of Psychology at New York University and a leading expert in the science of interpersonal communication. Her work focuses on questions such as: Why is it so hard to give honest, critical feedback? How do class, race, and cultural differences make communication in the workplace so difficult, and what can we do to improve it? And what does it take to really know another person?

Her upcoming book, Job Therapy, is a vital guide for diagnosing and dealing with unhappiness at work. Losing and replacing talent has a real cost for your company, which is why retention is more crucial than ever today. Tessa explains the five main sources of employee frustration, and offers strategies on how to resolve them: from flipping an identity crisis around with the help of good workplace social networks, to identifying your underappreciated stars and motivating them to stay. She shows how leaders can help their employees feel not only happy but fulfilled in the workplace, and improve motivation and effectiveness across their organization.

Her first book, Jerks at Work, is “a breezy and fun read for anyone who wants happier and healthier relationships at work” (Annie Duke, author of Quit). In it, Tessa identifies different kinds of difficult colleagues—from the Neglectful Boss to the “Kiss Up/Kick Downer”—and offers practical, research-backed ways to navigate and break free from toxic situations. Bestselling author Scott Galloway calls it “a practical and engaging set of tools,” and Publishers Weekly says that “leaders and workers alike will find in West an astute and personable guide.”

Tessa’s work has been covered by Scientific American, The New York Times, ABC World News, TIME, Harper’s Bazaar, The Financial Times, Forbes, CNBC, CNN, The Guardian, The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg, Strategy and Business, and the US Supreme Court. She has appeared on the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, CNN, and Good Morning America, and is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal. She discussed how we can really know another person on an episode of Hidden Brain, which quickly became the most downloaded episode of all time in the first month it was out.

Tessa received her PhD from the University of Connecticut and has published over 80 academic articles in psychology’s most prestigious journals, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Psychological Science, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. She has received multiple grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Tessa has also received several career awards, including the early career award from the Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology, and the Theoretical Innovation Prize from the Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology among others.

Speech Topics

Corporate Culture
How to Improve Relationships at WorkA Leader's Guide to Better Work Cultures

Most of us spend more time at work interacting with our colleagues and bosses than we do with our close relationship partners. But few of us actually learn effective strategies for having healthy workplace relationships, including how to manage conflict.

In this dynamic talk, psychologist and author Tessa West teaches you how to prevent, detect, and address conflict across five common workplace situations:

  • working with bosses who micromanage;
  • working with coworkers who free-ride off of others;
  • giving and granting credit for ideas and hard work in teams;
  • decision-making in teams in which all members have a voice;
  • and “complaining up” to bosses or managers about coworkers with whom one has conflict.

A practical, engaging speaker, Tessa provides hands-on strategies that will help you develop a healthy culture of workplace relationships, teaching people how to effectively manage conflict early and often, and and create structures for healthy team decision-making. This talk is vital for leaders looking to build healthy cultures at work and for individuals looking to improve their own skills at relationship building and conflict management. Audiences will walk away equipped and encouraged to communicate well at work and at home.

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Job TherapyThe 5 Main Sources of Employee Unhappiness (and How to Resolve Them)

One of the toughest challenges organizations face is preventing leaks in the talent pipeline: understanding why employees are unhappy, and in turn, predicting who is most likely to disengage and start looking for jobs elsewhere. Dr. Tessa West studied the experiences of thousands of employees, bosses, and hiring experts to write Job Therapy—a book that offers a fresh perspective on why some people leave their jobs, and others are able to turn things around and find happiness where they are. This talk is for organizations looking for concrete guidance on how to hire and retain top talent, promote from within, and ultimately, stop the leaky talent pipeline.

In this talk, you will first learn to identify the 5 main sources of employee unhappiness at work that if left unaddressed, lead people to quit:

  1. feeling like you no longer identify with the organization (having an “identity crisis”);
  2. task switching so much at work that you can barely keep your head above water (being “stretched too thin”);
  3. feeling left behind in a rapidly evolving workplace (feeling “drifted apart” from your job);
  4. failing to land a promotion or raise and not understanding why (being a “runner up”);
  5. feeling like the workplace is taking advantage of your expertise, and not compensating you for it (feeling like an “underappreciated star”).

Then you’ll learn how to treat these 5 main sources of unhappiness with a rich array of strategies. These strategies include communication guides designed to close the knowledge gap between what employees think they should be doing and what they actually should be doing, concrete guides for networking (whom people should network with, and what they should ask of these connections), and hands-on tips for task-switching smartly. Tips on how to structure the office in a way that reduces unnecessary interruptions, are also included.

This talk includes teaching tools and self-assessments that participants can bring back to their teams. For organizations looking to improve their interview strategy, it also includes interview guides designed to create healthy, honest interview conversations that leave no stone unturned. This talk can also be given as a workshop.

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Team Building
The Problem With Being Too Nice at WorkHow to Foster Effective Feedback

Organizations often struggle with helping employees improve their performance, and consequently, fostering innovation. Often, a culture of overly nice feedback is to blame. Many of us avoid giving critical yet essential feedback to avoid the anxiety and discomfort that comes along with having tough conversations. But that fear is holding our organizations back from true growth and creativity—and we can fix it.

Dr. Tessa West has spent 20 years researching how people communicate and how we deal with conflict. In this talk, she reveals the surprising ways in which anxiety shapes how we behave and the impressions we create, and then provides an actionable guide for creating a culture of healthy feedback in any organization. A charismatic and practical speaker, she offers strategies for getting more comfortable with conflict, giving tough feedback the right way, and ultimately fostering stronger and more innovative teams across your organization.

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How to Read People More Accurately

Getting inside the minds of others is critical for maintaining healthy relationships, negotiating good outcomes, and managing teams, but it requires effective perspective taking. Unfortunately, our attempts at reading other people often go wrong more than we realize. While we may think we know what other people are thinking and feeling, our best attempts at mind reading often fail. Leveraging insights from decades of her research on interpersonal communication, Dr. Tessa West explains why we often fail to read people accurately, and the concrete steps we can take to become better at reading one another.

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Featured Books

Jerks at Work
Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them
Job Therapy
Finding Work That Works for You

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