in: Career, Career & Wealth, Podcast

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #441: Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More

Do you feel like you’re putting your nose to the grindstone and working longer and longer hours, but not getting anywhere with your career? My guest today makes the case that if you want to be a top performer and advance in your job, you need to start working smarter instead of harder.

His name is Morten Hansen and in his book Great at Work, he highlights his groundbreaking, exhaustive analysis on top performers and shares his “7 Work Smarter Practices” that can maximize your job performance, without necessarily requiring you spend more time at it.
Today on the show, Morten explains why top performers concentrate on fewer things, but obsess more about them, as well as the optimal number of hours to be working each week. He then shares some advice on how to convince your boss to limit the number of irons you’ve got in the fire. We then discuss a practice Morten called “the one thing” that will elevate your skills, why you shouldn’t pursue a job based on passion alone, why the best collaborations involve a bit of heated debate, and why you need to find more time to work alone. 
This show busts a bunch of myths as well as offers a lot of really interesting insights that you can put into practice. 

Show Highlights

  • Morten’s principle of “do less, then obsess” 
  • How to obsess about the right things 
  • Using value metrics vs internal metrics 
  • How do converse with your boss about taking things off your plate?
  • How to manage up, and how to say no to your boss 
  • The perfect amount of hours in a week to work to perform your best 
  • Why a great career and a fulfilling personal life aren’t mutually exclusive 
  • How top performers continue to learn on the job 
  • The role of passion vs. meaning in your career 
  • Why collaboration isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the case for working alone more often
  • Why niceness isn’t a formula for success in collaborating 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover page of "Great At Work" by Morten T. Hansen.

Connect With Morten

Morten on Twitter

Morten’s website

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. Do you feel like you’re putting your nose to the grindstone and working longer and longer hours, but not getting anywhere with your career? My guest today makes the case that if you wanna be a top performer and advance in your job, you need to start working smarter instead of harder. His name is Morten Hansen, and in his book Great at Work he highlights his groundbreaking exhaustive analysis on top performers and shares his seven work smarter practices that can maximize your job performance without necessarily requiring you to spend more time at it.

Today on the show Morten explains why top performers concentrate on fewer things but obsess more about them, as well as the optimal number of hours to be working each week. He then shares some advice on how to convince your boss to limit the number of irons you’ve got in the fire. We then discuss a practice Morten calls, the one thing that’ll elevate your skills, why you shouldn’t pursue a job based on passion alone, why the best collaborations involve a bit of heated debate, and why you need to find more time to work alone.

This show will bust a bunch of myth as well as offer a lot of really interesting insights that you can put into practice today. After the show’s over check out our show notes at Hans joins me now via

Morten Hansen, welcome to the show.

Morten Hansen: Thank you for having me.

Brett McKay: So you got a new book out, Great at Work, How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More. You helped coauthor Great by Choice, which looked at companies and did some extensive research there. What got you thinking about individual performers, and doing the same sort of research you did with Great by Choice on individuals?

Morten Hansen: Yeah, so in the previous book with Jim Collins we looked at company performance, but I’ve always been intrigued by individual performance, and I want to perform better myself and I’m sure you do and everyone else does. We wanna do better work and have better results. I was intrigued by this concept of working smarter, not harder.

So I looked out for advice on that, and what I found was just a fragmented set of advice, lots of books, lots of opinions, not really much research on that topic. And I got very frustrated, I said, “What am I supposed to be doing here?” So I decided, as a researcher, “Well, I need to do a large study to find out how can you work smart and improve your performance?” And that’s what I did.

Brett McKay: Well, tell us about the research process, how do you study something like that?

Morten Hansen: Yeah, it’s a difficult thing to study. You need a large data set, you can’t just look at 10 individuals, because people might get at this from different angles. So I decided to study 5,000 people across corporate America, so we got all kinds of industries, junior jobs, more senior roles, men, women, half of the sample is women, and so on. We had bosses rate the performance, self-report and also direct reports rate their bosses, so we did a fairly comprehensive study.

We looked at a whole bunch of factors. I didn’t pick and choose, I said, “Here’s a list of possible hypotheses we think might actually drive performance,” and then we looked at performance outcome, what was the rating vis-à-vis peers? Were you above the peer ranking, were you in the top 10%, top 20%, bottom 50%, and so on.

And then we correlated and linked the behaviors that seemed to drive that performance difference. What we found, which is interesting, if you really look at it only seven factors drove the majority of performance. If you look at it, about 2/3 of the difference in performance among these 5,000 can be explained by seven factors. That’s kind of good news for all of us, it means that if we can focus on a few things and do those things well, we can actually most likely really improve our performance by quite a bit.

Brett McKay: So going into this, what were your initial hypotheses about what would drive individual performance?

Morten Hansen: Interesting, of course people have studied this before, so I didn’t start from scratch. What we found, though, is that there are some differences in these factors that make a huge difference.

One of the key factors is the ability to focus, the principle of focus, doing a few things. Stephen Covey’s said that, in Seven Habits, 30 years ago. That’s not a new thing to say, but here it’s interesting what we’ve found. We measured focus, were people focused or not focused, did they feel that they were spread too thin, doing too many things, their boss giving them too many things to do, and so on. Yes, people who focus tend to do better.

But here’s the twist, there were lots of people who focused, but they only applied average effort to those things they focused on. And then there were some people who were really good at focusing doing very few things, but they obsessed over those few things. They dedicated everything they had into those few things. And those people performed far better than those who merely focused.

I call that principle “do less, then obsess”. You gotta do both, you gotta obsess over the few things. I chose that word “obsession” on purpose, because it sounds a little harsh. But that is what it takes to be a top performer, you gotta go all in, fanatic attention to detail, go the extra mile, seek perfection in a very, very few things that matter the most. That principle was the most important one in our study.

Brett McKay: How much of an influence did it have? How much better did those people who did less and obsess perform than those who try to do a lot?

Morten Hansen: About 25 percentage points in the performance ranking. Think about that, let’s say that you are ranked top 70th percentile, you’re better than 70% of your peers, but 30% are better than you. Now if you are able to master this principle, you will, as a matter of fact, go to the top 5%. It boosts you 25 percentage points in the ranking. That’s a massive amount if you think about it.

There’s a huge difference being in the top 30% among peers, say a sales force of 200 people and you’re in the top 30%, versus the top 5%, now you’re an extraordinary performer. This matters a great deal.

Brett McKay: And I imagine you have to obsess about the right things, right? How do you figure that out?

Morten Hansen: That’s the next principle. So we asked another question, “If you obsess about the wrong things you’re not gonna perform, obviously.” So we looked into that, and I call that “redesign work for value”. It turns out, this was a big surprise to me, lots of people are chasing the wrong objectives.

We’ve all heard that you gotta set some clear objectives and work hard towards those objectives. Start with objectives in mind, start with the end in mind. And that’s only partially right, because so many times people are focused on the wrong objectives.

To give you a very clear example, we came across this guy who was running a logistics function in a warehouse for a large company, and his job was to send these shipments to corporate customers on time, according to his own schedule. He had a schedule, and are these shipments going out on time, and he hit those 99% of the time, which is fantastic, he reached that objective, right? And his boss was very happy.

But then they surveyed the corporate customers that were receiving these shipments, and they complained that a third of them arrived too late for when they needed them. In other words, that was a lousy performance, because if you’re a corporate customer and you were supposed to get these shipments and you’re getting them too late, you’re no better off.

In other words, this person was measuring an internal metric, “when does it leave my warehouse”, versus what I call a value metric which is when you benefit others who are the beneficiary or your work, which is “when do the customers need it”. What we’ve found is that a lot of people have these wrong metrics.

Think about a medical doctor. They measure the number of patients they can see in a day, their own internal productivity measure. Versus, are you providing the right diagnosis and treatment for the patients? Lawyers that bill by the hours as opposed to are you actually solving the legal problems of your clients? I’m in Silicon Valley, here people measure always volumes of activity. How many hours are you spending on YouTube as a consumer versus are you actually getting high quality programming and maybe you should be spending less hours and not being addicted. So we have these wrong metrics. What we need is value metrics.

So what we found is that people who do really good work, they first figure out, “What is the value I can bring in my job?” And those should be my objectives, those should be my metrics, and those are the few things I should pursue.

Brett McKay: And what do you do if you are not your own boss, you have someone else setting your metrics for you, and the metrics they’re setting for you are not the correct ones or they’re setting too many for you which is spreading you thin? How do you have that conversation with your boss to do less and then obsess?

Morten Hansen: That’s a great question, and it turns out to be tricky, but we found people who did that and did it well. You need to manage up, which is manage up towards your boss, and not just take everything that comes your way as a given. You need to learn to say no to your boss, and a lot of people fear that. They fear it because they think if they say no they will be seen as a bad performer. But the opposite can be true.

What we’ve found is that people who are really good at this, they say no appropriately. Here’s what they do, when your boss comes and says, “I’ve given you three projects,” and then the boss comes around saying, “Hey, can you do a fourth project?” And you know if you’re gonna add that fourth project it’s going to hurt your performance because now you’re spread too thin.

Now we have a choice. You can either do all four, and what’s gonna happen then, and we saw that in our data, is that people start doing mediocre work. Their meetings are not as well prepared, their Excel spreadsheet is not as well done, the customer calling pattern is not as well done, all kinds of things depending on the job, and then your boss is gonna say, “Why are you not doing such good work anymore?”

You wanna say to the boss, instead of just accepting that fourth project, you wanna go and say, “I can do this additional one, but what should I do first? Of these four, which one should I prioritize and do first?” In other words you’re putting the burden of prioritization back on the boss, and that’s a totally fair thing because they are, after all, the manager.

Now, the boss might say, “Well, can’t you do all four?” That’s a typical response. At that point you say yes you can, but the work is not gonna be as good because you are now, in fact, spreading yourself too thin. You need to have that conversation, and it’s a totally appropriate conversation to have as opposed to just being the recipient of all this work. What we’ve found is that people who are outperformers, they have that ability to say no and manage up appropriately.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I can imagine another response that some people would take, poor performers, is instead of being assertive and managing up, they would just get passive aggressive, they’ll say yes, but then purposely sabotage their boss to say, “Hey, look what you did,” and that’s not productive.

Morten Hansen: Exactly, and then you go around and you do … You’re just complaining to your colleagues, this boss is not managing well, you’re just getting fed up and frustrated. The thing is that if you accept all of that it’s gonna come back to bite you. It is, because you cannot do excellent work, or you have to put in 100 hours a week to make it happen, and then you’re gonna burn out. So you’ve got to have that courage, that assertiveness, to stand up and say those things.

Brett McKay: So I imagine, as you do less and obsess, the natural result is you’ll work fewer hours and get more done. In your research, how much less did top performers work than, say, mediocre performers?

Morten Hansen: That’s interesting, and we looked at hours worked, and of course we’re thinking the top performers are working crazy hours. That’s the work hard mentality that we have in this society. So we looked at the relationship between hours worked per week and performance, and it’s not a one-to-one relationship. This is very important.

If you’re working 30 hours a week on a full-time job, it really pays to increase that. That’s just too low. Forty is too low. We found 50 hours in our data set, this is corporate America across a number of industries, about 50 hours a week is the point where it pays to go do 50. If you think about 50, that’s not … You’re not slacking off. You’re working pretty hard, that’s a lot of hours in fact.

But beyond 50 we found that you don’t get a lot of extra bang for the buck for hours worked. When you go from 50 to 65 hours per week on average, you’re getting very little extra performance for that, and beyond 65 actually turns negative. It’s like an inverse U kind of shape to this.

The upshot for all of us is, put in hours, work hard to about 50 hours, give and take depending on your job of course. And beyond that, it’s not about the hours. It’s not about the hours, it is about how you spend those hours.

Brett McKay: And I imagine that, since you’re working less, 50 hours, still a lot but not crazy, that has effects for your personal life which makes it better, which comes back and carries over back to your work life because your personal life is good.

Morten Hansen: Yeah, I absolutely think that’s a great observation. Because when you work 50 hours a week on average you can actually have a personal life, but if you work 65 then it’s very difficult. You have to put in 11, 12 hours every day, and you have to work weekends. You don’t have time to come home and do something in the evening. Weekends are gonna be spent working, for the most part. If you add commute to that it’s gonna be crazy.

So there’s a huge difference between 50 and 65. At 50 you can actually have a personal life, at 65 or 70 it’s almost impossible. That’s what we found. We did a statistical correlation between hours worked and whether you did “do less, and obsess”, and whether you felt that you had a work/life balance, whether you felt you were burning out, and whether you were satisfied with your job.

People who do the “do less, then obsess” and work 50 hours a week to make that happen, they performed the best and they report better work/life balance, more job satisfaction, and lower chances of burnout. That’s what the statistical analysis of 5,000 people showed. In other words, it is possible. It is possible to have it both ways. You can be a top performer, and you can have a good personal life. That’s what we’ve found.

Brett McKay: That’s heartening to know that that’s possible.

Morten Hansen: But a lot of mythology around says that you can’t. You gotta sacrifice. That’s what I heard, I started working as a management consultant after grad school many years ago at Boston Consulting Group, and that was sort of the message. You gotta put in the 80, 90 hours, and you gotta have no personal life. That was the mythology. And it turns out to be wrong.

Brett McKay: Another thing you guys found in your research is that top performers continue to learn even when on the job. But I’m curious, how do they manage to fit that in when they’re doing less to obsess, and they’re looking 50 hours on average, how do they manage to keep learning when they already got a lot … I mean, not a lot but they’re focused on a few little things.

Morten Hansen: Yeah, it goes back to the principle of focus. What we found is that top performers, they have a continuous improvement mentality at work. They don’t spend a lot of time learning or training, but they focus on a few things. For example, you will have somebody who goes in and says, “I’m gonna ask better questions in meetings if I am a supervisor,” we found this person who was trying to get better ideas out of her team, but she was not able to, so she said, “I need to lead these meetings we have in a better way so I actually get those ideas for improvements out of my team, so I need to be able to ask better questions, I need to follow up better, there’s a whole set of small things I need to do better.”

That’s what she did over a period of time, she went into those meetings, she said, “Okay, here’s how I’m gonna ask questions, here’s how I’m gonna go follow up.” She spent on average about 15-20 minutes a day trying to improve on that particular thing, and that’s it. That did it for her, she got a lot better ideas out of her team, they implemented more ideas, and the productivity and results for her as a manager just shot up as a result of that.

So the principle here is … I call it the “15 minutes a day”. If you can carve about 15 minutes for reflecting a little bit to improve upon one thing at a time, I call that the power of one. Select only one thing, not 10 things, not five things, and try to improve that one a little bit every day, or a couple times a week. That is what it amounts to.

I know that you have had Anders Ericsson on your show, and he has some fantastic research on the idea of deliberate practice, and wrote a very good book Peak. He and his associates study mostly chess players, musical performers, artists, spelling bee competitors and so on. In other words, not people working, not professionals. The question then is, “Can you use that methodology to improve …” Think of those as soft skills that work. To be better at communication, better at meeting, better at prioritizing, better at motivating employees, better at sales for example.

What we found is that yes you can. You just need to modify the approach. I talk about a few things you need to do differently in the workplace, but that is what we found, we found people who did this, and they did much better as a result.

So you need to have that mentality of select one thing at a time, very specific, try to spend 10-15 minutes a day on that one thing.

Brett McKay: I love that. So another myth that we’ve heard, some people say it’s a myth, I think the research would confirm that, is that we should follow our passion. But you found in your research that there’s a difference between passion and meaningful work. Sometimes work that’s meaningful you might not necessarily be passionate about, or something you might be passionate about might not necessarily give you meaning. Can you talk about that distinction?

Morten Hansen: Yeah, it’s a very important distinction, I think it’s absolutely a myth. Every time we get to graduation ceremonies, and we had a lot of them this spring, right, we got some speakers to stand on the podium, and they say, “Graduates, I’ll tell you one thing. Follow your passion, and things will work out for you.” Of course that person who stands on that podium is a super successful person like Oprah Winfrey and others, right? We don’t hear from people who follow their passion and tanked, and had a terrible career, right? Those are not invited up on the podium in the colleges around the country. We have a massive selection bias here.

So in our data set we can actually look at that, because we looked at people and the degree to which they felt passion and purpose in their work. Those two concepts are completely different. Passion is doing what you love, whereas purpose is do what contributes. Passion is about what excites you, what the world can give you. Purpose is about what you can do for others, it is about what you can give the world. They’re completely different.

We found that there are people who have one but not the other. You can be extremely passionate for what you do, say you are in sales and it’s incredible, competitive, you get all the adrenaline and it’s fantastically exciting for you, but you might feel like what you’re doing is not contributing to the world. And vice versa.

These are very different, and I call them the people who have both, they have excitement about their job, in the morning they go to work every day and they’re fired up about their work, and they feel like what they do has meaning, contributes to a greater good. Those people perform the best.

Why is that? It is because they have more energy in every hour they spend. They don’t work more hours, they just have more energy at work, and that translates into better performance, which makes total sense. We’ve probably all been in some kind of workplace or situation where we’re sitting and we feel like work is drudgery, and we’re just sitting around and we get distracted, we look at the internet, we just wanna go home. But if you have passion and purpose you’re much more in tune with the work.

Brett McKay: But it is possible, ideally you want passion and purpose, but there are performers who can get by on just one perhaps?

Morten Hansen: Yeah, so what we’ve found, since we had 5,000 people to study, and there were people with different combinations here, we were able to tease this apart. So the worst, think about it as four categories of performers.

The first one is people who have neither, those are the worst. They have no drive at work. Then we get people who have passion but no purpose. They have a little boost in the performance. Then we have people who have purpose but no passion, they have an even better boost of performance. And then we’ve got people who have both, and they have the biggest boost in performance. So it’s sort of a ladder, if you will.

Brett McKay: So another thing you guys sussed out that was probably counterintuitive, based on a lot of the literature that’s out there about performance in the workplace, is … A lot of the stuff you hear is about collaboration being key to work performance, and you hear all these open office spaces where people get together and can interrupt each other. But you’ve found that top performers actually collaborated less. What’s going on there?

Morten Hansen: Yeah, there is that convention out there that collaboration is a good thing, it’s like dental floss, it’s a good thing for you and that more is better. That’s how we think of collaboration, can’t hurt you, right? And we found the opposite.

There are two sins of collaboration. There’s under-collaboration, and there’s over-collaboration. We found instances, would people under-collaborate? Yes. They’re silos, the people who should be talking, should be working together, and they don’t. But then we have another problem which is actually extremely common, and that is that people collaborate on too many things, and that is because we have this mantra out there, teamwork, collaboration, it’s a good thing, just do more of it.

So you’ve got people who schedule meetings, they go to an inordinate amount of task forces and meetings, and they sit there and talk, talk, and talk, and they don’t have time to really excel and do their own work. They are not doing less and obsessing, they’re just doing more and more and more of these collaborative activities.

What you have to do is to be able to say, “What are the most valuable collaborative activities that I need to engage in?” And then say no to the rest, or challenge the rest. Again, you have to look at the meetings, “Do I need to go to those meetings? Is it important for me to spend two hours? Do I need to call a meeting and invite 10 colleagues from five different departments to attend? Is this really necessary?”

And here we have this problem, that people go to these meetings because they have a fear of missing out. Maybe something important is happening when those 10 people from five different departments are coming together, so I need to be there. And now you’ve spent your morning, wasted your morning, on something that was not necessary.

So we need better disciplinary … I call it “disciplined collaboration”, to be able to say, “These are the important collaborative activities that are gonna really improve results, and these other ones are not, and I need to be able to select that appropriately.”

Brett McKay: And what are some examples of important collaborative activities that you’ve found?

Morten Hansen: Again, it goes back to this idea of value. If we are sitting here together and we’re gonna improve … Are we gonna move the results? Should we be sitting here and coordinating between sales and marketing in a new launch campaign? Probably, that’s gonna be important if we’re not coordinated, so let’s coordinate on that. And then somebody comes around saying, “We created a task force to improve the use of coffee in the office.” I kid you not, I’ve seen this, people say, “All right, do we need to have a committee to look at the coffee use in the office?” I know that sounds like a little trivial example, but you’re getting stuff like that.

You need to say, “What are the two to three most important collaborative activities that are gonna improve the results, and let’s focus on that.” To give another example, from a company that I recently worked with here in Silicon Valley, and they were sitting around saying, “What are the most valuable activities for us?” And the head of marketing said, “If you really push that question, we have major launches and we have minor launches of product features. We tend to spend the same amount of effort on both. But where we really should collaborate are the major launches because those are the ones who move the needle, and we should really deprioritize the minor launches.”

We need to be able to understand that, and spend less collaborative activities on the minor, and put more of the effort into the major, because that really makes a difference. That makes intuitive sense, but they worked in the wrong way because they thought everything was important. Everything is not important, some things are more important than others.

Brett McKay: I think I’ve read in other similar research where they found that when people worked by themselves, they’re able to get more focused and kinda get in that deep work state, they’re able to come up with different bizarre ideas that they otherwise wouldn’t come up with in a group setting because they’d be afraid to say it because they’re afraid it’d get shot down. So they had these crazy ideas and then they come to the group with those crazy ideas, so there’s something about working by yourself that allows … Especially with creative work, for interesting things to happen.

I think Bell Laboratories was an example of that back in the 60s. Every person had their own little office, and they were working on really hard things, lasers, whatever they were working on back then, and then they would have a cafeteria where they would come and talk, and a lot of fruitful ideas came from that.

Morten Hansen: Yeah, we need … You’re picking up two important things there. The first one is we need to have some time where we can be alone and work alone and focus, and come up with creative ideas or spend some time in deep thought. The open landscape, the cubicle landscape, often makes that very difficult. So when we asked these top performers, “How do you get that quiet space, how do you do less, how do you make sure you don’t get distracted?” People had all kinds of interesting tactics for doing that.

You had people who would come in an hour early every day, you had people who put on headphones to make sure they wouldn’t be disturbed, you had a company where they would have armbands around their wrist and if you had the red one on it meant “don’t disturb me”, there was a signal, shared signal in a company. You had people who had cubicles and they had drawn fishing lines across the openings, and put their swimwear as curtains on those fish lines to protect themselves.

We created these open spaces that don’t allow for that deep thought, and so now people are becoming creative and trying to create their own space. That’s very, very important, and we found that people were easily distracted by media, social media and other things. The problem of sitting in front of a computer and you get pinged by all kinds of incoming messages, it makes it very difficult for people.

I had, myself, when I was writing the book, I was distracted all the time. As you know, writing is really hard, you gotta sit there alone for hours and try to write something. So I came up with my own technique of this thing, I got an old computer, laptop, I stripped it of everything. No browsers, no email software, nothing except just Word. And I took that computer, left my phone at home, I took it to Starbucks for two hours every day, and I just sat there. After half an hour I really wanna check my messages, but I couldn’t. So you gotta find what works for you to create that quiet space.

Brett McKay: When people do collaborate, a lot of the literature, business literature, pop business literature out there says we need to collaborate cooperatively, everyone gets a turn speaking, it’s done civilly. But you guys found something different, that top performers don’t collaborate like that.

Morten Hansen: Yeah, that’s another convention that you’re supposed to be sitting in this room and be nice to each other. You mentioned before that if you come to a meeting you’re gonna have your own ideas and present them. But it doesn’t mean that people are listening to you, that they are engaging with your ideas, it doesn’t mean they even allow you to speak up. Niceness is not the formula for success here.

It is what I call “fight and unite” in meetings. You need to have a good fight in the meetings. You need to be able to have a rigorous debate around the ideas. People who fail to do so, they make terrible decisions and they have worse ideas, and that makes sense. If you’re sitting around making a decision, say what should be the prices of a product in a certain market, and people are not able to come up with minority views, with disagreements, and you can’t debate that topic, you’re probably gonna make a wrong decision.

The fighting … You gotta have a good fight, not a bad fight. It shouldn’t be clash of personalities, you’re not attacking a person, you’re attacking ideas. That principle is super important. And then you also need to unite, once you’ve had a good fight and make decisions, you need to be able to unite behind those decisions. We found that people who disagree with something in a meeting, they go out afterwards and they undermine it. They question decisions in the hallway, they try to sabotage it.

Of course, you can’t have that, you can’t be a top performer as a team or as an individual if that’s the way you behave. I call it the “fight and unite”, and it’s not about being nice, it’s about having a good fight.

Brett McKay: How do you manage up with this? Let’s say you have a boss that’s not on board with this, doesn’t understand this, how would you guide them through that?

Morten Hansen: Ooh, that is tough. I had a lot of students when I teach this, and they come and say, “My boss doesn’t wanna have disagreements. They don’t wanna be challenged, that’s the last thing they want. They just want us to sit around and have an agreement.” And that’s tough, to go at your boss and say what should we do here.

One tactic that could work is asking questions. You’re sitting at a meeting and somebody says, the boss says, “I think the price should be $12.99 for this product in Wisconsin.” And you disagree, you think that is too high, it’s not gonna sell, and you have data to prove it. What you could do, instead of saying, “I disagree with you, boss,” you could say a question, you could ask a question. You could say, “How does that price level compare to competing products in the stores? Are we in the top range of the price or are we in the bottom range?” In other words you’re just asking questions that indirectly challenge the decision.

Those are some of the tactics. But if you have a boss, or you’re in an environment where you cannot speak up, it’s impossible and people who do, people who disagree with something … It’s a very toxic work environment, and it’s gonna be underperforming sooner or later.

Brett McKay: So you might think about going somewhere else, possibly.

Morten Hansen: Yeah, we know this, there’s lot of research, not only mine but lots of research. Teams that are actually able to have rigorous debates perform far better.

Brett McKay: We’ve scratched the surface on your work in Great at Work, is there some place people can go to learn more about the book and your work that you’re doing?

Morten Hansen: Yeah, we have a website where you can go and you can take a look. I have some articles, I got some summary notes, and we also have a quiz, an assessment you could take, it takes about 5-7 minutes, and you can see how you score according to these seven principles that drive performance. The website is, that’s

Brett McKay: Well, Morten Hansen, thanks for coming on, really appreciate it.

Morten Hansen: Thank you for having me.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Morten Hansen, he’s the author of the book Great at Work, it’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can also find out more information about his work at, that’s, it’s got some quizzes, some other content that fleshes out more of what he talked about in the book. Also check out our show notes at where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at, and if you enjoyed the show, you’ve gotten something out of it, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you, please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member you think would get something out of it.

As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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