Tessa West

Associate Professor of Psychology, NYU | Author, Jerks at Work

Tessa's research focuses on questions such as: How can we improve communication across cultural and national divides, and what hurdles do we need to overcome to make hybrid communication work?

Tessa West is an Associate Professor of Psychology at New York University and a leading expert in the science of interpersonal communication. Her research focuses on questions such as: How can we improve communication across cultural and national divides, and what hurdles do we need to overcome to make hybrid communication work?

Tessa received her PhD from the University of Connecticut and has published over 70 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.

Tessa’s work has been covered by Scientific American, the New York Times, ABC World News, TIME, the Huffington Post, 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, David McRaney’s live “You are not so smart” podcast, and the WNYC. She is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal.

Tessa has worked with and delivered keynotes for Capital Group, Splunk, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Bristol-Myer Squibb, CoreLogic, Capital One, KPMG, Premise Health, HPE, Gilead, Pfizer, Relativity, Survey Monkey and more, on topics related to improving diversity inclusion practices, fostering better leadership, and improving communication more generally. She is the author of the book Jerks at Work (2022) on coping with toxic colleagues.

Speech topics

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion: How to bridge the communication divide in diverse organizations

When we communicate with people at work, the impressions people make of us are only partly determined by what we say; equally if not more important is how we say it. In this talk, Tessa West delves into the science of communication across racial, religious, and ethnic differences. Based on nearly two decades of research, she illustrates clear examples of how our nonverbal behaviors—how anxious we sound, and how much we fidget and avoid eye contact, for example—shape what people think of us above and beyond what we say. Tessa then provides concrete guidelines for how to improve communication between people who come from different backgrounds and discusses the long-term benefits for organizations that follow these guidelines.

In this talk you will learn:

  • Why two people can leave the same interaction with radically different impressions of what happened

  • How to create inclusive practices to improve communication that anyone can use through small, daily changes in behavior

  • What leaders can do to create long-lasting culture changes to sustain communication practices

Performance Management: Creating a workplace culture where people know how to ask for feedback, and know how to give it

Most people don’t love the feedback experience: It’s tough to give honest feedback, especially if it’s negative, and it’s even tougher to ask for it. Based on decades of her research on the science of having difficult conversations, Tessa explains why our intuitions of how to have productive feedback conversations often go against what the science says. She then provides guidelines for how to structure feedback conversations in productive ways that leave both the giver and receiver of feedback feeling confident, non-defensive, and ready to make change.

In this talk you will learn:

  • How understanding what motivates your conversation partner is critical to shaping the feedback conversation

  • How to avoid overly positive feedback when we feel anxious about giving negative feedback

  • A step-by-step guide to asking for and giving feedback

  • How to model feedback conversations at work to create a positive feedback culture

Leadership development: Learning how to lead as a daily practice

Most people at work were promoted because they were good at their old job, not because they excel at managing others. In fact, most people receive very little leadership training as they climb up the ranks at work. In this talk, based on her upcoming book “Jerks at Work: Toxic coworkers and what to do about them,” Tessa discusses the science behind the two biggest errors managers make as they take on new responsibilities: micromanaging, and neglecting the people who work for them. She provides clear guidelines for preventing rising leaders from slipping into unproductive patterns of behavior, and what small, structural changes organizations can embrace to insure that as people rise through the ranks, they develop strong leadership skills that they pass on to others.

In this talk you will learn:

  • Why bosses and managers slip into patterns into micromanagement and neglect (Hint: it’s not entirely their fault)

  • What current leaders can do to “train away” these tempting tendencies in rising leaders

  • How organizations can create long-lasting structural changes to promote healthy patterns of leadership over time

Hybrid Work: Improving communication in a hybrid world

The modern workplace is at a crossroad: Some of us are returning to the office, whereas others of us will continue to work from home for the rest of our careers. That new hybrid workplace creates a host of challenges, but one of the biggest is this: By virtue of being in person, the office people will have a much richer exposure to people’s behaviors at work than the remote people. They will have a shared reality—and a shared language—that simply isn’t available to people outside the office.

In this talk, based on Tessa’s Wall Street Journal article on hybrid communication, Tessa dives into the challenges of communicating in a hybrid world, and discusses the hidden advantages in-person employees have over at-home employees. She provides clear guidelines for how organizations can level the playing field, and how to make hybrid meetings feel more productive and less awkward.

In this talk you will learn:

  • The long-term benefits of coming to the office for social networking and showcasing “hidden” work

  • Best practices for when to bring at-home workers to the office

  • How to create structural changes in the ways we communicate when half of the team is in the office, and half is conference-calling in

  • How to ensure that no one group—at-home or at-the-office—is falling behind at work

Books

Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them

For anyone pulling their hair out over an irritating colleague who's not technically breaking any rules, a hilarious guide to getting difficult people off your back from NYU psychology professor Tessa West

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