How would your coworkers describe you? How would your boss describe you?
There is significant value in knowing the real answer to this common interview question. Whether you are job hunting or not, understanding how you are perceived in the office can make – or break – your career progression and overall office experience.
On a professional level, how we are perceived at work can shape the support we receive, our productivity, and, ultimately, our likelihood of promotion or advancement. In fact, thought leaders on the importance of social currency for women in the workplace assert that career progression for women is largely dependent on their ability to manage their work reputation. Women that are viewed as too nice or not assertive enough, for example, may come across as being unable to handle adversity or offer up constructive criticism to direct reports and, therefore, may be passed over for promotion to executive level positions.
On a personal level, your work reputation can determine whether you enjoy the camaraderie and cooperation of your colleagues – or if you will be eating lunch AND working on that tough project late into the night alone.
So how do you know if you have a reputation for being too soft?
6 Red Flags That May Mean You Are Too Soft and Need To Toughen Up
- Your Team Members/Direct Reports Never Meet their Deadlines
If the deadlines you set are consistently missed, there are two things to consider. Either your deadlines are unreasonable or you are not being taken seriously.
To find out which is the case, have an open discussion with your team member about projects that have gone past deadline. Find out if your team member simply struggled with the project and was hesitant to communicate or if they lack fundamental understanding of deadlines and accountability. Cite any negative impacts from the late projects such as overtime hours paid or clients lost, then open the floor for feedback on what went wrong. On the next project, work directly with team members to identify fair milestones and timelines. Hold team members accountable if deadlines continued to be missed, either by having them interface directly with the client and/or formally documenting their performance and impact to the team and organization. For the latter, follow your HR team’s protocol.
- The Majority of Tasks for Key Projects Land on Your Desk
Does it feel like you are shouldering the brunt of the work? It is hard to know for certain what your co-workers or even direct reports are (or are not) working on. Your best bet is to get a good understanding up front of all project tasks and who is accountable for them. Seeing a list of tasks and ‘responsible party’ names can give all team members an ‘in-your-face’ snapshot of fairness of duties. If it’s obvious you are, in fact, doing most of the work, it’s time to sit down with your manager. Explain how the workload is impinging upon your ability to produce quality work and ask for support in a redistribution of duties. Be sure to frame communication on this topic with your manager through the lens of what is best for the organization.
- Others Try to Take Credit for your Work
Don’t get angry, but don’t let this slide. On a first offense, speak directly with whomever is claiming your work. Say something like this:
“I noticed in the meeting you said you found and corrected the error in the demand forecast formula for Q4. I know you’re aware that I discovered the error and fixed it. Can I ask why you said that?”
Will you receive a sensible answer? Probably, not, but the point here is that letting the Credit Taker know you’re going to call them out is likely enough to get them to stop. As we discussed on day 13 of the Goal Getter challenge, this is especially significant for women in the workplace.
If the behavior repeats itself, start cc’ing key players and the Credit Taker on some of your critical deliverables and accomplishments for a short time. This will make it clear to the Credit Taker that you plan on standing up for your work in front of an audience.
- You Always Agree with your Boss and Colleagues…Even if You Don’t Always Agree with your Boss and Colleagues
While it is certainly convenient to be on the same page as your boss and co-workers, that is not what a good company hires you for. Your real value lies in your approach to solving problems and your fresh ideas for improving processes. These are the contributions that build the foundation of career advancement, so offer them!
What is important here is to ask yourself why you are agreeing, even when you disagree. If you are withholding thoughts because you are nervous or shy about sharing your real perspective, remind yourself that it’s your job to contribute to your company’s success. If you don’t speak up because the office environment does not encourage it, continue to share your ideas, but consider looking for work at a company who better values their employees’ contributions.
You could be labeled as too soft if you do not speak up in times like these – when it matters.
- You are Consistently Left Out of Critical Communication
Whether it’s something as significant as a rescheduled meeting or as simple as a “Cookies in the Breakroom!” memo, if you’re consistently the last one to know, you need to speak up.
Assume the missed communication was an oversight and casually ask the email originator to be included on the next similar communication. If the problem persists, loop in a manager explaining the negative impact the lack of info has on your work. Again, frame your issue as a concern for the organization.
- Your Requests for Resources and Support Go Unaddressed
Whether its sufficient time, equipment, budget or manpower, if you have clearly communicated your needs to get the job done and they’ve long gone unmet, it’s possible you need to strengthen your stance.
If you haven’t already, really do your homework here. Be able to draw direct expectations of how the resources you are requesting can improve the business. Conversely, illustrate how continued lack of such resources will impair the business. Present your case, then listen carefully for opportunities to compromise. If there are none, start updating your resume. You want to join a company that recognizes the importance of equipping team members with the tools to succeed.
Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or mentor for their take, if you find yourself in one – or more- of these situations. These experiences are more common than you think and hearing how someone else has handled them can help you frame your approach. Or, if you have successfully navigated one of these challenges yourself, why not check Day 29 of the BossChix Network 31 Day Challenge off your list by reaching out to someone in your network and sharing your story?