We have all been there. Sitting in a meeting, politely nodding whilst our manager spouts on about what should be done to fix a problem. But you disagree. In fact, not only do you disagree but you have a better idea, yet you don’t say a thing. Why do we do this to ourselves? Don’t feel too bad, we've all been there.
I'M TOO YOUNG TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
I remember when I first joined the workforce. I was working for a huge banking institution as a fresh grad and everyone seemed to be old(er) and sooooo experienced. What could I offer that my colleagues didn’t already know? I rationalised it by convincing myself I was being respectful for not speaking, that I was 'lucky to be here' and that it was my duty to sit and learn from my peers. It took me a good few years to realise that awesome leaders and progressive companies actually want to hear from their younger team members. They want your take on the world which often gives businesses' the competitive edge. My friends, you deserved your spot in the meeting so it's time to share your perspective - you have so much to offer!
At your next meeting, it's time to speak up. Don't spend forever in your head formulating a question or an idea - just pop your hand up and be heard. If you need some time to gather your thoughts, say just that!
How many times have you you waited too long and felt that fear or anxiety quickly dousing your ideas. It's time to own it rockstars! Don't let someone else get in there before you - I know it can be scary but as long as you’re not being disrespectful when you give your view then let your voice be heard! You don't want to make it seem like you're personally attacking another colleague's opinion, so try opening with “It is my understanding that…”, or “it is my belief that…”, or “my feeling is that…”, which is far less confrontational than saying, “your idea is wrong” or “that will never work”.
So go on - let's get you raising that hand and kicking butt in your meetings this week!
IT'S A BOYS CLUB
In my career I have often found myself working in heavily male dominated industries. And I actually prefer it. The strong male figures in my life have come to be incredible role models and friends. They have taught me strong working values and inspire me everyday. It took me a little time to understand a man's world, so this one is for the the girl bosses in the room.
Have you ever looked around and realised you're the only female in the room? You've walked into a meeting and the guys have spent the first five minutes talking about their footy fuelled weekends or you know, something that us girls would usually zone out on. Although they don’t mean it, you feel like you have absolutely zero to contribute (Peggy Olsen from Mad Men anyone?).
Personally, I'm a bit of a tomboy at heart. My perfect Friday night involves heading to the game and yelling furiously at my team. I'm not saying 'go to a footy game', but think about ways you can keep in touch with what the boys at work are into. So for example, get involved by glancing over the sports section in the paper and I think you'll find it's fun learning a new thing or two about a topic you would usually run from!
Another thing that has helped me find common ground is just that. Find common ground. During a recent meeting I found out that my male colleague was obsessed with Survivor - as equally obsessed as I am. Week on week we managed to talk about each of the contestants and eventually started a Slack group discussing the ins and outs of every strategy on the show. Most men in the work place are really keen to hear what us girls and sometimes struggle to find a way to approach us.
Finding common interests is just not applicable to cracking into the "boys club", it applies to all those cliquey groups that may be tough to break into ... so go on, get involved with the conversation! Don't rely on others to get you involved, you take charge superstar.
I NEED TO EARN MY STRIPES
I started my early career as an accountant (whooop, shout out to all the number crunchers out there!). This industry was not only elitist but also super OLD SCHOOL (yep, I went there). I was told once that for me to become a manager I'd need to have a full head of grey hair. The Partner who I reported to would say in our 1:1's "keep your head down and do the hard yards" or "work hard, and harder again to get noticed" or you need to "earn your stripes" before you get promoted. Sigh, who can relate?
This one may be a slow burn as the generational gap can be hard for some people to overcome. And that works both ways as every generation has a pre-conceived notion on what the other generation can or can't do.
First I'd encourage you to listen to the leadership and guidance on offer. Baby boomers and Gen X’ers a bit of a head start on you so it's important to learn from them too. But to all of you Gen Y's or Millennial there are a few things you can do to prove your value! You're likely one or more of the below:
- Tech savvy – let’s face it, techy stuff doesn't really phase you. You were born with an iPhone in your hand. You learn to navigate around a new system over your lunch break. Impress your managers with this and how it can be used to improve business.
- Serial multi-tasker – you can talk on the phone, type an email, tweet, have a Youtube video going whilst drinking a coffee AND let's face it, it's not that the older generation can't do it, it's just that you do it better and can still be extra productive. Show them what you are made of!
- Networking – millennials have built up online networks. Tap into your networks where you can. Think about LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. Most of you guys have hundreds, if not thousands of followers who are already bought into your brand.
- You LOVE a challenge – you’re not afraid of change, in fact you crave it. Doing repetitive tasks is downright boring and you're probably looking for way to automate it or outsource it. You want to learn and develop your skills working on complex problems rather than menial basic ones. Put your hand up to take on new work. Your managers will begin to love and adore this about you.
I’M AN INTROVERT
So you don’t really like crowds or being around people and happiest when you're doing your own thing. Well that must mean you’re an introvert. Introverts are often perceived as being naturally shy and lack confidence to speak up - this is so untrue!
Society has seemed to divide us up into two camps. You’re either an extrovert ie someone who is loud and proud and just loves the spotlight; or you’re an introvert – someone who is quiet and shy and hates being centre of attention. Let's just punch through that notion right here and now. A broader definition is that extroverts get their energy from the outside world whereas introverts get their energy from within their own mental state. So just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you are shy.
When people keep telling you you’re an introvert because you’re reserved you may subconsciously feel obliged to not talk. Snap out of it! Introverts aren’t naturally shy just because they prefer to be on their own. Introverts have great opinions and usually better than the extrovert’s hot air. So break the myth that introverts are shy and speak up when you know you have something important to say. The old saying is watch out for the quiet ones. It' probably because introverts are great at observing and listening that their insights are deeper and more considered.
There is at least one in every organisation, the loud, brash manager or peer who has a reputation for a short temper and loves to intimidate. The odds are that you will get this type of colleague at least once in your career. It can feel confidence crushing at times depending on how sensitive you are. This type of character makes you second guess yourself before you speak up as you don't want to be on the end of one of their rants.
There are a few approaches you can take.
- Take the verbal rant on the chin and get on with your job. He or she will feel they have managed you and you get to go on about your day. Overtime though, you will lose respect for your boss and you won’t take them seriously.
- Show respect and let them feel their position of authority. Overtime though, you will feel like you’re just sucking up and feel stifled to work in a place where you can’t express yourself.
- Some bosses are very private. If you find a common interest and befriend, then you may see a change in tone.
- My favourite approach is to speak up and give your opinion. If your manager can’t appreciate that then you are not a cultural fit for that employer and it's best you look for an employer that does.
Speaking up takes guts, and if you are naturally a quieter person then it can feel the more daunting. But you must back yourself and speak up. Your career depends on it!
Which scenario do you most relate to? Or, what other instances have you experienced where you haven't been able to speak up?
Come and share your experiences with the awesome Facebook community that is Career Superstars - you'll be surprised at how many of us have been in the same boat.
So be bold superstars, no matter what background, industry, gender, generation or personality type you come from you all have something immensely valuable to share.
AUTHOR: RUBY LEE
Ruby coaches and facilitates workshops for career minded individuals who want to go for their dream job. She leads an active social community on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. She's always up for a dirty coffee or two and will always, always take bribes when it's in units of almond croissants.