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June 17, 2014 10:52 AM   Subscribe

People tend to think of me as cute, sweet, and other infantilising adjectives. I feel that this is a problem at work. How can I amend my behaviour and appearance to be less cute and more serious?

30s, F.

I am generally used to people who don't know me very well to describe me as adorable, sweet, and other bland and infantile descriptors but while annoying it isn't really a problem. However, increasingly at work I am finding this to be a problem. For example, I feel that senior members of staff occasionally act quite condescending to me and dismissive of my opinions. I also find that certain colleagues act a little inappropriate with me because they feel like, it's just Sockandawe, you can say what you like to her. Today for example a colleague patted me on the head! - which I found really inappropriate and said so. But I find it really problematic that he ever should have gotten the impression that it was OK to do that to me in the first place. People interrupt me a lot, and they chat to me a lot even when I'm busy and I feel like I am making it quite obvious with my body language that I am busy.

Although I have many less cuddly personality traits when you get to know me better, I know I come across as a non-threatening person. I am friendly, chubby and non-confrontational, so it is not surprising that people react to me this way. I work in a casual office environment, and dress appropriately for the workplace, so definitely on the casual side of workwear.

I'm good at my job, and work hard, and long hours. I am a mid-level office worker with ambitions to progress upward and I really think it would help if people didn't think of me as sweet and obliging - those traits don't exactly scream 'promote me'. At the same time, I am friendly and social, and I want to believe it is possible to continue to be these things.

What can I do to project more of a "Don't fuck with me" attitude at work, without turning into a jerk? Wear darker colours? Smile less? Be mean to people?!

I am not bad at being assertive via email and in formal work situations like meetings, etc. I am talking more about casual office behaviour like how you behave with your cubicle neighbours or in the communal areas.
posted by sockandawe to Human Relations (37 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is more about attitude than any specific thing. But here are some ideas:

1. Practice speaking with a slightly lower, slower voice.
2. Do not talk about your personal life at all.
3. No giggling, ever.
4. Wear darker colors (blacks, grays, navy, brown) and no bright/light colors.
5. Smile less.
6. Be less nice. It's ok to be a little curt and aggressive sometimes.
7. Don't use smiley faces or exclamation marks in your emails.
8. Never wear a hoodie or sneakers. Upgrade to some blazers and flats.

Pull your colleague aside as say, "I want to let you know that it was totally inappropriate for you to pat me on the head this morning. I'm not a child, I'm your colleague. Please don't touch me like that again." *SERIOUS FACE*
posted by amaire at 11:04 AM on June 17 [13 favorites]


Smile less in situations that aren't social exchanges. I'm a man but have a lot of the stereotypical traits that can hold women back in the workplace-- overly friendly, a people-pleaser, instinctively self-effacing, etc. My natural inclination is to pretty much smile during any conversation, but I came to realize that this can make it a lot harder to get taken seriously. When I think of the people I've worked with who really project a specific sense of authority or seriousness, both women and men, it's specifically the people who dole out smiles selectively. Which, you know, is a double-edged sword. The colleagues with whom I have the closest continuing working relationships are cheery people who like to smile. But they're separate from the set of people who command an intimidating sort of respect. It depends what you want to project.

It's easier, too, to change your affect in the context of new professional relationships; if you start treating longstanding colleagues differently all of a sudden, they're probably going to associate that as a reaction to something they did, rather than a generalized change on your part.
posted by threeants at 11:08 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


amaire has some good advice. I definitely second smiling less, making eye contact (but not staring) and definitely be assertive about not having people touch you. I've found "please don't touch me" to be effective, without the whole "not a child" thing. I think the less you say when asserting your boundaries the better, because people are less likely to talk over you.

Then when the whole "don't touch me" moment is over, just proceed with whatever you were doing and appear completely to have moved on, unruffled.

I don't agree with wearing dark colors or whatever. I wear a lot of bright colors and while people think I am adorable too, it doesn't stand in the way of getting work done and being respected (anymore).
posted by sweetkid at 11:11 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


This is going to sound a little weird, but... what color is your hair? I'm naturally a dishwater blonde and people suddenly started taking me way, way more seriously when I started coloring my hair a darker color. It was unsettling how much of a difference it made.
posted by Andrhia at 11:11 AM on June 17 [9 favorites]



I'm good at my job, and work hard, and long hours. I am a mid-level office worker with ambitions to progress upward and I really think it would help if people didn't think of me as sweet and obliging - those traits don't exactly scream 'promote me'. At the same time, I am friendly and social, and I want to believe it is possible to continue to be these things.


One thing I've done is observe upper level female managers that I like and emulate them. I adopt their posture and way of speaking sometimes. It's not like, crazy obvious but subtle things. Also, it helped me a lot to have female managers after a long time of only having bosses who were men.
posted by sweetkid at 11:14 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


"What can I do to project more of a "Don't fuck with me" attitude at work, without turning into a jerk? Wear darker colours? Smile less? Be mean to people?! "

I recommend that you say something like "um, excuse me?" or "excuse you" when someone pats you on the head.

Said with DEADLY seriousness.

Locked in eye contact.

And then the question: Did you just pat me on the head?

Make it very clear when you do not like XYZ being said, or done, to you.
posted by misspony at 11:14 AM on June 17 [10 favorites]


Some other things to check yourself on.

1. Language - watch the words you use. Do you include words like "awesome" or "cool" when giving positive feedback? If so, stop.
2. Participation - Do you wait for others to speak first in meetings? Start sharing your input first and don't wait for others.
3. Assertion - definitely directly and respectfully assert your right to be treated professionally at all times. If someone says or does anything that is demeaning, condescending or dismissive, immediately say something like, "I'm sure you didn't mean to, but when you did/said this it came across as though you don't respect my input/opinion/contributions. Is that the impression you meant to give?"
4. Find a Mentor - who do you respect and trust at work who is senior to you? Tell them about your professional ambitions and ask if they are willing to mentor you by giving you formal advice and meeting with you occasionally (once a month) to coach you on how to achieve your goals.
posted by brookeb at 11:17 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


I feel like I am making it quite obvious with my body language that I am busy

Sometimes you have to state the obvious to people. I'm thinking of the scene from The Office where Pam actually had to say to Michael Scott, "please don't throw trash at me," because even though her body language was screaming it, and it should be obvious to anyone that it's wrong to do that, he wasn't going to stop until she said something.

If people feel they can say anything to you, it's probably because there are no consequences when they say inappropriate things to you. Keep your smiling, friendly demeanor for people who are acting appropriately, and when they cross the line, use serious body language but don't stop there: state very clearly "please don't do that."

The female characters on The Good Wife are amazing at this. In pretty much every episode, someone has to assert her boundaries at work.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:18 AM on June 17 [14 favorites]


Extra Petite has a couple of articles/tips for dressing to look older and more confident. Even if what you're wearing is business appropriate, you could still tweak things to give yourself a little more oomph- a little tailoring can go a long way.
posted by damayanti at 11:19 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Like sweetkid, I agree with much of amaire's comment. I fully support:

1. Practice speaking with a slightly lower, slower voice.
3. No giggling, ever.
5. Smile less.
7. Don't use smiley faces or exclamation marks in your emails.
8. Never wear a hoodie or sneakers. Upgrade to some blazers and flats.

I strongly disagree with the "no bright/light colors" thing, but I guess that's "know your office" -- mine is firmly business casual, so bright and light colors are a-okay. I also don't think that power should equal unkindness; no need to be terse or otherwise "not nice" with your colleagues. Be polite and courteous, but try not to be over-the-top, especially by being apologetic about asking others to do their job.

I'm good at my job, and work hard, and long hours. I am a mid-level office worker with ambitions to progress upward and I really think it would help if people didn't think of me as sweet and obliging - those traits don't exactly scream 'promote me'.

I think sticking up for yourself goes the farthest when it comes to self-promotion. If an assignment is unreasonable in some way or could be managed more efficiently, say so. If someone is treating you poorly, call them out on it. If you want more/different assignments, ask for it. You get the picture.

At the same time, I am friendly and social, and I want to believe it is possible to continue to be these things.

It is 100% possible, and some might say integral to your professional success. You do not need to (and absolutely should not) be unkind to people simply because you want to project more self-assurance.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:20 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Sometimes you have to state the obvious to people.

Yeah, this is a great point. I had a supervisor who was always extremely rude to me, but I generally put up with it because, haha, I'm fun and jokey, don't mind me. Then once she threw a pair of scissors at me (!). This was really the last straw, and I gave her an icy, fixed gaze that I don't think she even suspected I was capable of and said firmly, "Don't. Ever. Throw. Anything. At me. Again." I think she got the idea.
posted by threeants at 11:23 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


For example, I feel that senior members of staff occasionally act quite condescending to me and dismissive of my opinions.

The most useful piece of workplace advice I ever got was from a board member who snapped at me in the middle of a presentation and said "Nobody is paying you to feel. We're paying you to think."

We have a bunch of linguistic scientists here so maybe one or two will stop by with cites and stuff, but as broad groups women and men use very different language in the workplace, and the way women speak does not help us be taken seriously. "I'm not really sure but..." "It's just my opinion but..." "I feel like..." etc are passive and self-dismissive and work against you. So if you're doing things like that, train yourself to stop.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:25 AM on June 17 [11 favorites]


If people feel they can say anything to you, it's probably because there are no consequences when they say inappropriate things to you.

There it is. I'm a man, but I've had people treat me in ways I'd rather they not treat me at work. I'm naturally pretty adverse to confrontation (isn't everyone?), but here's what I've learned: It's really the only thing that works in a lot of situations.

People do unpleasant stuff because they can, for as long as they can. Confronting them makes them pay a price they're probably unwilling to pay. Usually when I (politely) confront someone I go back to my desk thinking "Oh God, now everyone thinks I'm an asshole, they'll probably fire me soon" - but the reality tends to be that the person stops doing the annoying thing and we can move forward as colleagues.

People will keep doing it until you make them stop, so it's best to confront early, so they know the ground rules. So much better for everyone to have a small confrontation upfront then to let it stew for years and years and have it finally come out in a huge explosion no one knew was coming.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:27 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


You didn't say whether you do it or not, but beware of uptalking, where it really? sounds? like you're asking a question? after every few words? you know? That can be the fastest path towards my thinking you're not very confident in your opinions and therefore I don't need to take you seriously.
posted by Liesl at 11:27 AM on June 17 [9 favorites]


Which reminds me (sorry to keep chiming in [oops, case in point, needless apology; don't do it!]): where appropriate, don't ask people to do things, tell them. If you're actually asking a favor ("do you mind grabbing me a burrito while you're at lunch?"), sure, fine, but cases such as having someone who reports to you do something that's within their job description, or having someone stop doing something that's inappropriate-- these are situations where you can tell (politely in the former case, steadfastly in the latter) instead of ask.
posted by threeants at 11:28 AM on June 17 [5 favorites]


^ This, a thousand times.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:32 AM on June 17


What can I do to project more of a "Don't fuck with me" attitude at work

The thing is, it's a nice fantasy, but there's no way to project a force field that makes people act the way you want them to act. This is ten times more true when you're in a situation where people already know you and are used to thinking of you a certain way.

The only way to let people know they shouldn't fuck with you is to find a polite way to say "Don't fuck with me" to their faces, repeatedly until it sinks in.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:35 AM on June 17


Don't use smiley faces or exclamation marks in your emails.

2nding this. No idea if it's one of your problems or not but it does make me take coworkers and clients slightly less seriously when I see exclamation points or emoticons in their emails.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:38 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Even though your office is casual, try wearing just slightly more professional clothing with clean lines in earth tones and jewel tones. If it has ruffles, lace, bows, or pastels, banish it from your work wardrobe. Toss on a blazer over a plain tshirt and jeans. Wear real shoes -- no sandals, no sneakers.

Check your speech patterns. Do you end sentences with an upward inflection? Do you speak like a teenager without meaning to? Do you turn everything into a question and request validation at the end? For instance, here is something I literally overheard spoken at my office this week by a woman in her late 20s (with ?s added to mark upward inflection): "Okay, seriously? I totally feel like my boss? isn't taking me seriously? when I'm trying to communicate, like, my ideas in meetings? Do you know what I mean?" If you talk like that, stop.

How's your hairstyle? Could you consider a more professional cut or style?
posted by erst at 11:40 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Are you a petite woman? If so, get some heels, chunky one. My cousin is a very petite blonde who is extremely professional, but was having trouble being taken seriously at her first job (a bit more corporate than yours sounds). She said she had to get people to stop treating her like a child, so she used heels to get some height, cut her hair so that it was sleek and professional, and started dressing more conservatively than her peers. Also, assert yourself with posture by standing/sitting tall instead of slumping. She said it helped tremendously.
posted by zoetrope at 11:46 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Wear more sophisticated, tailored clothing.

If there's a potluck, it's one thing - but otherwise, don't go out of your way to feed other people in the office, or do other "motherly", "family" type things. Be pleasant, but professional.

Don't use body language to indicate that you are busy. Tell them, out loud, with words, that you are busy. "You'll have to tell me your story another time, this part of the project is due today by 5."

I want to say it was perhaps Randy Pausch who would stand up in his office and not let people sit down. Stand up and walk towards them. If they won't leave your space, you leave yours - go to a conference room where you can continue to work quietly.

You don't have to be rude or brusque to get the message across. Except, perhaps with people who would pat you on the head.

There are nice, warm people out there who are successful.
posted by mitschlag at 11:52 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


You said a lot of people try to chat with you while you are trying to work. Is your desk or cubicle decorated in any way? Sometimes when people personalize their workspaces - photo collages, Dirty Dancing calendars, lolcats - it can read as girly and young, like someone's high school locker.
posted by sestaaak at 12:32 PM on June 17


Assertiveness!
- Headphones help me to show that I'm concentrating and should only be interrupted for something important.
- If the person chatting isn't clearing out (especially if they're male), say something like, "oh, I'll catch you later, I'm off to the washroom". It's better, of course, to say that you've got an important task that you need to get back to. But leaving for the washroom anytime someone stays more than a few minutes also trains them eventually.
- Professional gear! Having seen how much better a friend was respected when she got a nice leather portfolio, added makeup, and started wearing blazers I did some of the same. Maybe it's also that I've aged, but there's a huge difference in how I was perceived back then versus now.
- Also, yes to the watching the women in power you respect and would like to be like. I've watched a few assertive, smart, and Nice women for a few years and tried to imitate them. Much better than just being nice and hardworking, I now occasionally feel like a badass.
posted by ldthomps at 12:59 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Ah bitchiness. My favorite topic.

You don't have to change yourself as much as has been suggested above. I'm super bubbly and I laugh a lot.

Until that time that I don't.

And I turn on a dime.

How?

Call people on their shit.

Know what respect is, and when they don't act it, snark them.

And then happily go back to business.

There is a balance to this of course. Too much snark and you're defensive. You need wisdom to see clearly what is improper and what to let slide, and from whom. You can happily laugh at things that aren't true but if they're trying to hit close to the mark, snark 'em. If it's someone above you, look shocked/stunned that they dare say that, and if they have any good sense they should apologize.

misspony's comment is perfect. You only have to snark once or twice and then people get the idea. And if they don't, take them aside afterwards and let them know.

In short, stop playing so nice.


I'm good at my job, and work hard, and long hours. I am a mid-level office worker with ambitions to progress upward


This is the part that worries me. For your level, the advice you're getting is good. To move above your level takes skill and politics, and honestly should be the topic of another askme.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:23 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


Another thing that's helpful that took me forever to figure out is not to think out loud. When you're in school and college, you're encouraged to think out loud because of the teaching and process of helping you develop how you think. This exact same habit works against you when working because people think it comes across as lack of confidence.

I know you're not just out of school, but it seriously took me a while to figure this out and then correct it because I didn't get feedback that I was thinking out loud, I just figured out that that was what people were referring to when they said I didn't speak like I was confident. They said my writing was, but in person I seemed like I was unsure. Then it hit me, in person I was thinking out loud, like "what if we did this..." which people saw as my not knowing what we should do and asking them.

Which to me is still sort of odd but people thinking I didn't have assertiveness/confidence sort of ended dramatically when I started speaking at work the way I write at work- thinking things out in my head before proceeding.
posted by sweetkid at 1:32 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Oh I totally empathize with you. I don't have this problem any more (it recedes as you get older) but I absolutely used to.

Jackets are a big part of the answer: no kidding. Yes dark colours, but jackets help even more. If you're curious, read John Molloy's classic Dress For Success For Women. It's outdated in many ways, but is fascinating and still IMO mostly true. He had women keep logs of their work experiences as well as what they wore every day, and found they were patronized and undermined more in summer than winter, which he eventually attributed to less clothing, lighter colours, no layering. Jackets convey authority and seriousness.

By the way in case it's not obvious: this sucks and is not your fault. As a woman there is no right answer for you: you're likely to end up categorised as either cute or a bitch. So do the best you can, and don't blame yourself :)
posted by Susan PG at 2:46 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Let me pass on to you some excellent advise someone gave me recently in a similar situation. You need to state what happens. Say "You're petting me on the head!" Three out of four times, the other person will realize the inappropriateness of their actions and start to apologize. If this is not the case, you need to be just a little more direct. "I am not okay with you petting me on the head. Stop doing that."

There is something about being confronted with their actions in this way that works likr magic. It also allows you to speak up without starting with an "excuse me" which still sounds apologetic or feeling bitchy when calling them out in way that seems more agressive (but these two options also work.

My natural inclination is to shrug things off, which occasionally makes me feel like a doormat. This helps.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 2:59 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


nthing smile less.

One thing I don't think has been said yet: don't apologize. Don't EVER say "sorry" except in the rare situation where you really screwed up and are taking responsibility. Don't be apologetic in more subtle ways, like, "I know you're busy, and I'll be really quick," or "It's just an idea, we don't have to do it," or nervously laughing.

Take up space. Take up people's time. Be confident that what you have to say has value. Value your own time and space -- if somebody walks into your office and starts chatting, tell them without smiling or apologizing, "I'm in the middle of something. I'll be free in two hours." Then look back at your work.

Don't be afraid of silence. If somebody says something ridiculous, just look them in the eye and let it hang in the air. If you've made a statement like, "I won't get to this until next week," and nobody replies (or the reply is, "But I really need it tomorrow"), say nothing. Don't be tempted to add, "Well, I could stay late and try to get it done tomorrow..."
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:18 PM on June 17 [6 favorites]


1. Be a bit grim. Only clowns walk around smiling. Clowns and people in love. Save the smiles and perkiness for actually happy times with actual friends.

2. Tell. Briefly explain. Lay the facts on the table. Assert a little power. Send short, factual emails without a lot of polite padding. Map the situation for others. Say "I need you to do this." or "We need you to do this." or "OK, your deliverable is this..." or "Send me the x by Tuesday and we can go forward with y."

Don't ask. "Hi, Bob. Could you do this?" or "Please send me this by..." is how you ask and how you give your power to others. It's how you roll over on your back and wag your tail.

Assume that they can and will do what you want because you expect reasonable things. You just need to tell them what you need and when you need it.

3. Stretch out physically. In private (bathroom, office, elevator, stairwell), do big stretches up to the sky. In meetings, spread out, grab table space, grab leg room, be expansive. Lean back, don't hunch, don't curl up. Pretend it's your office and they have come to you.

4. Imitate the people in charge. Watch what they do. Listen to what they say and how they say it.
posted by pracowity at 2:01 AM on June 18


I'm a woman. I got this kind of thing earlier in my career. Solutions?

1. No ponytails. I actually find my hair is a weird trigger point for this kind of thing. I have long hair, and I seem to be treated the most seriously when I wear it down, flat ironed straight. The more volume and bounce and flounciness to my hair the less serious I am taken.

2. Speak louder, in a lower pitch, and in a more direct monotone way. The more serious and important something is the more "Vulcan" my speech goes. Take emotion out of it, just speak clearly, with very direct matter of fact language, and look them straight in the eye when you are talking. I also find not using contractions (won't, didn't, shouldn't, it's, etc) can do a lot for making me sound serious. "Do not pat me on the head again" comes off more serious and adult than "Don't pat me on the head again". I also lose all the "really" and "very" and "extremely"s from my language. Drop the contractions, drop the "really"s and "very"s, and speak clearly, more loudly, and monotone. People actually know, now, that when I start "going Vulcan" that I am not fucking kidding around.

3. Make things awkward for people who treat you this way. I gain a LOT of power because I am willing to make things publically awkward. For example, when the co-worker patted you on the head I would have stopped dead, looked them direct in the eye and said to them in front of everyone else "Do not pat me on the head as though I were a child. That is condescending and disrespectful.". I would not have lowered my voice and I would have looked them straight in the eye as I said it and I would have had a deadpan expression on my face. I would then resume the conversation as if it had never happened. This technique of making people uncomfortable after treating you condescendingly usually only needs to happen a couple times before people stop.

4. Read up on body language. There are ways to hold your body that communicate power and confidence.

5. Don't always use "please" or always ask. Tell, don't ask. Like pracowity said, speak in concretes and direct requests. "I need you to provide me this information" or "Inform me as soon as it is finished" speaks much more adultly and powerfully than "Can you please get me that information?" or "Can you please let me know when you're done?".

6. Don't wear pink. Dead serious. Dark colors. Wear dark colors. Bright fun colors are for evenings and weekends when you aren't at work.

7. Don't show a lot of cleavage or dress too provocatively. This is less about being treated as a child and more about just being seen as an equal and treated with respect.

8. I'm short (5'3), so I wear heels to bring me up to a more grown up height.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:55 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


One final thing, once you establish the respect and are being taken seriously you'll be able to ease up on some of these things. You just need to go nuclear for a bit to establish a clear baseline of "Don't fuck with me" first.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:27 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


One final thing, once you establish the respect and are being taken seriously you'll be able to ease up on some of these things. You just need to go nuclear for a bit to establish a clear baseline of "Don't fuck with me" first.

This. I was reading your first list of suggestions and it didn't make sense - I wear ponytails sometimes, bright colours, flowers in my hair, scarves, jewelry, makeup; I speak in a medium register because speaking lower hurts my throat; I like to make light jokes and keep the energy flowing (I need it to balance out the drudgery of the office) but when I speak, no matter what I'm wearing, I'm confident, ready for a debate and I know my shit, and I don't suffer fools. Also I pull my own weight (I've seen ladies at the office try to lazy / flirt their way out of work or just in general shirk from a good challenge).

In my head, no matter what I'm wearing, I imagine that I'm CEO of St. Peeps Inc.

So maybe it's a chicken/egg problem. I say wear what you like because the office is boring enough as it is, but if you're not feeling confident yet then clothes help out.

Except #7. I dress well but I keep the hem lines & neck lines appropriate. That's just my comfort level.

#3 yes!! Someone made a comment about me while we were taking a foosball break, said something like "I'll enjoy watching this game" with those undertones and I said "sure and after the game you can enjoy walking up to HR with me" dude couldn't apologize fast enough.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:25 AM on June 18


Read up on body language. There are ways to hold your body that communicate power and confidence.

Another suggestion I have that really helps with this is to take an improv class. Half of it is reading body language and using it to decide how to interact with another person.
posted by sweetkid at 7:43 AM on June 18


I wear ponytails sometimes, bright colours, flowers in my hair, scarves, jewelry, makeup; I speak in a medium register because speaking lower hurts my throat; I like to make light jokes and keep the energy flowing


Hey, I do all these too.... now. Before I went nuclear and started laying down the "Respect Me" law those things were hindering my efforts to be taken seriously. Now that people know I am not to be fucked with I am able to wear pink and laugh and speak in my normal tone of voice. I shift in to Vulcan mode when necessary, but in general I'm able to be fairly natural and normal and nice and still get the respect and treatment I deserve.

So they all can be eased back once an acceptable baseline is established...except for the making people awkward if they treat me like a child or like a silly woman. That I am prepared to do at the drop of a hat. No free passes on that one.

So yes, I think this is a chicken and egg thing. You (St. Peepsburg) were able to establish those boundaries and expectations of equal respectful treatment right from the off. I (and the OP from the sounds of it) sort of dropped the ball at the beginning, behaved too young and unprofessionally, and created a general opinion that I was young and inexperienced and flighty. I went nuclear, I made a few people really uncomfortable when they treated me patronizingly, and I enforced the boundaries I set for myself. Problem solved.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:28 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I am a young professional, very well respected in my office. Outside of work I regularly get told that I look underage (and occasionally that I look 14!). Outside of work people pat me on the head, tell me that I look cute, and sometimes try to pull my cheeks. At work, my coworkers at a peer level are all 5 years older than me (and male). Everyone else that I work with is 10-30 years older than me. Everyone takes me seriously.

I think of all the points above, the most important ones are
1. Do not qualify what you say "I think, in my opinion, I could be wrong but, I feel etc etc" just state your point. A LOT of women do this.
2. Remove the uptick/inflection unless you are actually asking a question.

If I look so young and am taken very seriously at work, then you can do it to. It helps that I am very good at my job. Everyone at work, from my direct managers to coworkers outside of my function, know that I know my shit and when I say something they listen. I do speak up quite often, assertively. If you qualify your opinion or have an inflection, it sounds like you don't know what you're talking about and people will ignore you. I am always certain. Even if I have literally no idea what is going on, I will say something like "I don't have an answer for you now. I am going to research that today, loop in my boss this afternoon, and get back to you tomorrow."

For the people interrupt you a lot, some people are just interrupters. But maybe you ramble, or don't get to the point, or talk a lot. Your next phone meeting, take notes (maybe literally) on how long each person is speaking vs you. If everyone takes 15 seconds to make a point and you take 1 minute, then you need to be more concise.

Also something that I've learned is that no one but your boss cares if you work hard or long hours. You need to work smart. If facetime is part of your office culture, then being there when your boss is important. But don't assume that because you work "harder" or longer than others, that it will translate into being seen as a better employee / management potential. You need to take initiative where other people notice.
posted by puertosurf at 10:37 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


Some tips, several of which have been mentioned already:

1. Speak directly without qualifiers. When stating an opinion on something, say nothing in front of the words "I think that we should x, y, z."

2. Go further; practice stating your opinion in the voice of the company. Drop the "I think" and simply say "We should x, y, and z." "We should consider x, y, and z" is okay too, but practice simply saying "we should...", no qualifier at all, no personal voice or speaking only for yourself. Don't do this all the time, but consciously practice this.

3. You say you are friendly and social. Does this include being funny? Making little jokes and laughing a lot? That's fine. But practice not doing that. Practice saying some things with no humor whatsoever. State them plain.

4. Ditto empathetic or encouraging noises and phrases:"Oh..." "Nooo, really?" "Awwww." (You use one of these in your title...do you do it too?) Anything that resembles clucking or sighing or giggling in empathy. You can have feelings, but just state what you feel don't always act it out: "I am sorry to hear that." "That's unfortunate." "That's disappointing." "That's funny." Again, don't express it. State it plain.

5. Practice promoting yourself professionally, if you don't already, both in spoken words and in writing. State it professionally. "I'm excited to share that I just [x, y, z]. It will be great for the company because [y]." Make sure you pair this with an equal amount of asking about other people's professional successes. Practice promoting yourself as a professional more than you promote yourself as a personal individual in casual conversation. Practice relating to other people professionally more than you relate to them personally.

6. Make direct eye contact often. While not smiling, clucking, uh-huhing, or otherwise experssing anything. Not rude. Not staring. Just not smiling or expressing.

7. If someone interrupts you, let them speak. But don't respond to what they say. Respond with: "I'll come back to that but first I'll finish my point." Here too. No tone, no expressing. State it plain.

8. If someone is constantly chatting you up, and you don't want to cut them off, let them finish to a natural pause and then, again, state your reaction plain, then state what you are going to do, then promote yourself: "That is a funny story. I am going to get back to work now. I'm doing x, y, and z and it's going well. I expect that we'll be able to do a, b, c. I'm going to get back to it." Another trick for getting people to leave professionally: stand up. Stand up and start moving papers on your desk while saying these things. Stand up with a cup of coffee in your hand. If you have your office this works like a dream: stand up and walk towards your door. Even if you don't have your own office, standing up in a cubicle is sending the same psychological and body language signal: I am moving on now and so are you; you are being escorted out. People will follow this cue naturally.

9. Clothes: wear what you want (within reason and professional guidelines for your workplace), but make it sharp. Look sharp in your own style all the time.

10. Finally, and this is the best arrow in your quiver, put yourself in writing often, as often as possible, and make sure your written voice is spot on professionally and takes into account all of the above tips about language, always. Nothing separates "cute" and "sweet" and "nice" from "smart" and "serious" and "impressive" like a consistently powerful and professional written word. Become the best professional writer you can possibly be. Instant respect.
posted by beanie at 7:34 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Thanks all. I best-answered the ones that really felt like they applied to me personally, but all these answers were really interesting and I hope they prove useful to other people with the same problem.

This is the part that worries me. For your level, the advice you're getting is good. To move above your level takes skill and politics, and honestly should be the topic of another askme.

St Peepsburg, I'll probably be back in due course to ask about that.

Thanks again!
posted by sockandawe at 2:54 AM on June 19


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