You're a big goofball - Corporate Polish. When and HOW did you get it?
January 8, 2015 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I work in a highly corporate environment filled with people in their early to late twenties. I have some level of social anxiety and am also an extrovert so I deal with the stressful situations by spewing - I act very silly, say awkward-on-purpose-but-still-freakin-awkward things, complete overshare, pause a little too long so its awkward, make weird facial expressions, react extremely strongly all the time, etc.

I am getting therapy with a really good psychotherapist now to deal with my social anxiety. But if you were a goofball, self-deprecating jokes, awkward as all Hell and probably very immature and insecure - how did you get to be more polished, professional and corporate sounding?

I know the key is to slow down, separate personal and professional life and probably work on your presentation in terms of dress. What else works to cultivate a professional persona? Right now I work hard, I deliver results but I'm not trusted in client meetings to come across professionally (though I know I can, and have). I'm perceived as very immature, very insecure, a crazy sillyball of goofy energy and just in general, a wildcard.

I know I'm more than that and I know I'm capable of changing my reputation to something that's more polished and a lot more confident. Wondering if anyone has any tools or techniques or tricks to appear more corporate savvy and polished.
posted by rhythm_queen to Work & Money (39 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
When in doubt smile and say something mildly self-deprecating. "Oops sorry I might be rambling. Too much coffee!" "Sorry I just lost my train of thought, not enough coffee!" Embrace cliche and small talk. Remember one thing about everyone and ask about it. "How's that cat of yours?" Have one thing that you always fall back on in conversation, "I LOVE COFFEE!" so that other people can remember one thing about you.

It sounds soulless but if you treat it as a game it becomes less so. It also helps to find one or two people who you can talk plainly to and leave the building for coffee with them when possible.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:33 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Talk less.
posted by pompomtom at 6:36 PM on January 8, 2015 [43 favorites]

Best answer: When in doubt smile and say something mildly self-deprecating. "Oops sorry I might be rambling. Too much coffee!" "Sorry I just lost my train of thought, not enough coffee!"

I think this is terrible advice if you want to come across as polished, professional, confident, and trustworthy. You said you have social anxiety and problems with rambling so "when in doubt" is probably going to be frequently. You do not want to be apologizing and self-deprecating, even mildly so, on a regular basis. I think that only people very secure in positions of power can afford to use self-deprecation and apologies. Even then, if you'll notice, they do it sparingly. If you're trying to build up your reputation, don't do this. Instead, practice being comfortable with pauses and silences and allowing yourself time to think. Practice feeling secure and speaking confidently and calmly (not rambling or apologizing for what you're saying) even if you're not sure what you're saying is 100% right or isn't absolutely perfect when it comes out of your mouth.
posted by unannihilated at 6:39 PM on January 8, 2015 [35 favorites]

I have a coworker a lot like you. He comes off as more professional when he's all business. Aside from asking how people are doing, don't talk about yourself. Don't make jokes, don't tell stories, just talk shop. Eventually you can start to be more open again, but for the next few months, you need to have a business persona. If you find yourself rambling or making awkward comments, stop yourself immediately and apologize and say you have to get back to work.
posted by umwhat at 6:44 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

Wondering if anyone has any tools or techniques or tricks to appear more corporate savvy and polished.

There are more than a few posts about things like this. Basically what you're asking is how to be part of the "professional class." You're a grownup now. It's time to act like it.

Enunciate clearly. Don't make every statement sound like a question. Don't apologize before every statement you make. Don't laugh at your own jokes. Keep your gestures small, not expansive, while speaking. Wear clothes that fit, an indication that (a) you bought them for yourself and (b) that you know what you want and can make your own decisions.
posted by deanc at 6:44 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to point out, that first answer - that's actually how I currently act and it's not working. I already am the "talks about coffee addiction to blame her crazy" person, and whilst it worked for a little while, people know it's not the coffee. It's just the crazy :)

I like to laugh, be silly, be nutty, but I realize now this is NOT the audience. And people are getting sick of it and wary of me. I want to come across MUCH, MUCH more polished, confident, professional. Not make excuses for my awkwardness, but actually just stop being awkward at work. I am killing it in terms of my actual production, bare bones of the job, but I act like an immature child with boundary issues (oversharing, lame jokes, dancing at work, sometimes pulling pranks, having panic attacks, having long talks in lunch room when people ask how I'm doing - IT'S AWFUL. Now, people overall like me and accept me but it's more like "aww, poor'll get there! out on your own for the first time? first job? poor you, you just need to mature and you're doing great *thumbs up* but awe, you're just silly and youll grow up!"

I just know I'm smarter, more articulate, a better person and a better professional than that. I know I am articulate, I have business savvy. But I just fall back on the silly me stuff because ...It's a way to shield myself, as I'm learning from my therapist. It's a way to actually hold people at arms length, to make sure I never make real connections.

Either way, though, the other answers so far have been pretty spot on. Talk less. I think it's a good idea, and also to monitor what I say and say things carefully. I do that well enough in serious conversation, but anything outside of a heart-to-heart : I fall apart into crazy land.
posted by rhythm_queen at 6:51 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I kind of understand what your problem is simply because it is embedded in the question-- you're rambling about your issues but can't actually pinpoint a specific question you're asking, leaving us without much to work with.

You know that your problem is that you "act like an immature child with boundary issues" and that "key is to slow down ... and probably work on your presentation in terms of dress." Ok. Why aren't you doing that? You know that it's inappropriate to be silly so... don't do that at the office.

When you're at the office and have a question you need answered, don't ramble on about problems you've been having and be vague about what your ultimate question is: present the problem and then make specific, pointed questions whose answers will give you what you need to go forward.
posted by deanc at 6:58 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Based on your question history, this type of problem appears to be a trend in your life, and in some of your previous questions, several posters suggested getting a medical evaluation to rule out the possibility of a medical condition such as ADHD contributing to these types of issues for you. Have you tried that, and if so, how did it turn out?
posted by phoenixy at 7:17 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

What's your support system like outside of work? Having a trusted friend or two, preferably either someone who works someplace else or at the very least an entirely different department/hierarchy than you to get drinks with at closing time or to jot a quick text to when you're walking somewhere might help you. Having a sense of humor is really not a bad way to cope with what sounds like (reading a little between the lines here and skimming some of your past questions) competitive, demanding work, especially when you've got social anxiety compounding the work stress--but you need to train yourself into blowing off that steam somewhere that's not work.
posted by kagredon at 7:29 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

you could hone and direct it into some other avenue of snark, like twitter, or stick it in a word doc somewhere, if you think you could direct this creativity elsewhere.
posted by nickggully at 7:32 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Speaking as someone who /really/ shares your experience and pretty much fears workplaces where I can't crack jokes, I prefer to think of it in English major terms - knowing your audience and the affect you give off.

Being self-deprecating is only endearing to people who see you as a person outside of work, and have their own reasons for liking you well enough to want to soothe your self esteem. In terms of a competitive workplace, where the company culture is focused on production and getting things done, you may be in an environment where people have general expectations to put up a specific front in order to most efficiently get through the day. Have confidence and allow your competence to speak for yourself, and remain present with yourself and count to 4 before you think you're gonna immediately speak. Cultivating a meditative practice can also allow you to be more steady and mindful and grounded.

Genuinely asking about how people are, and if they are doing well though - everyone really wants to be seen as a person, so don't give that up. They also want the chance to respect you too. After a duration of time people respect you as a professional and know that your general state is stabilized, that's when you crack the jokes and remind them that you're likeable. Hang in there! You're here to get good reviews and professional references - then maybe you can go to a different job where your humor is more valued.
posted by yueliang at 7:46 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also, I would totally work with you. There are other people like us out there :)
posted by yueliang at 7:48 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think you just need to find a job with a better culture. There is room for personality in the corporate world, but it's really hard to find the job that meshes with your well, you-ness. I have known lots of people who have corporate personas and while I do admire that, I just don't have it in me. I think I'd have missed out on great friendships and opportunities if I'd changed my work personality.

The only caveat is that you need to kick ass at your job, so that your quirks don't outweigh your usefulness. It has worked well for me, but is of course just anecdata. Possibly relevant details: I'm a fat, white 32 year old female-identifying person making good money in Atlanta. I have been working full-time since I was 18.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:50 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Working on my email skills have really helped me. Instead of getting right to the point, I use salutations, I say things like "Thank you for getting in touch about your degree evaluation! I'm glad to be able to help you with that", I use paragraphs and transitions, sign my emails. I err on the side of sounding too formal, rather than too casual, and especially with students (I'm a professor), it really really helps.

Otherwise... yea. Slow down. Ask yourself if you really need to say whatever it is. Dress the part. Figure out who you can cut up with and who you can't.
posted by joycehealy at 7:51 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like to laugh, be silly, be nutty, but I realize now this is NOT the audience. And people are getting sick of it and wary of me. I want to come across MUCH, MUCH more polished, confident, professional.

As a first step, you should work on shutting up. Just shush. Wean yourself off this kind of desperate-acting-out trying so hard to make people like you behaviour by not trying at all. Just be quiet for a few weeks to reset your behaviour mean.

When you have to speak to people, slow down. Learn to get comfortable with pauses, and speak slowly so you have time to run your words through the "Is this professional?" evaluation.

And practice a stock of two and three word answers: "Great, thanks; and you?" "I'll have to get back to you on that" and "Let me look into that and email you."
posted by DarlingBri at 8:09 PM on January 8, 2015 [25 favorites]

Best answer: How is your social situation outside of work? If you don't have another source of potential friends (besides coworkers), or another place to be sociable (i.e. it's just home, work, and the internet) then it's understandably really had not to be chatty and oversharing. Establish someplace you can be unprofessional, and then it will matter a lot less that you have to act professional at work.
posted by aimedwander at 8:11 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think it's really hard to change your work persona once people already know you as a particular "type". You are the young goofball and you've probably been pigeonholed that way now.

I think you should consider changes you make now (dressing better, talking less, no pranks(!), no dancing(!)) to be just practice, and not to expect people's opinion of you to necessarily change. That way the pressure is off. You can play it as a game against yourself. Can you go a whole hour without making a joke? A whole day? Keep score!

Then, when you change jobs in the future, which you will, you will have lots of practice being more professional and it will be easier to start a clean slate with a different sort of persona. Also, if you stay long enough at your current job, the people who knew you as a goofball will leave, and new people won't have known you at your "worst".

Also, try toastmasters. One of the things I didn't like about the groups I tried out was how much they tried to do professional boring boardroom type meetings. Even jokes in people's talks tended to be Very Serious Attempts At Professional Humour. And people were generally trying to eliminate a lot of the natural spontaneity from their off-the-cuff speaking, doing things like cutting out ums and uhs, repetitions, etc. Finding exactly the right words to express ideas. It was not a good fit for me. But it sounds like these are skills you might really benefit from, even if you don't love the experience of learning them.
posted by lollusc at 8:27 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: It's hard to make this kind of change - not at all impossible, but cut yourself some slack. You are not alone in this.

I second the suggestion to try Toastmasters - if you are in NYC then PM me for recommendations.

One of the things that I've learned in my life-long walk with anxiety is that by the time it actually becomes a noticeable problem it's been building for a while. So try making it a habit to check in with yourself every hour or so to see how you're feeling. If you know your own symptoms of anxiety then you can realize "Oh, I didn't know I was anxious but my shoulders are really tight" and take a little walk, breathe deeply, that sort of thing.

Meditation might help you with building awareness - so that in an awkward moment - or at least a moment where you are feeling awkward, which may not be a universally awkward moment - you can internally acknowledge your feelings and make a decision about how you want to handle them. Maybe by walking away, maybe by saying nothing, focusing on your breathing - something that works for you.

I'm certain you have some ways to interact with people that make you feel good and proud - so focus on building those up and acknowledging them to yourself.

And make sure you have a safe place in your life where you can be goofy.

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 9:01 PM on January 8, 2015

Something that's been helping me is pausing before opening my mouth (or typing...) and asking myself "Am I contributing to the discussion by doing this? If I do this thing, am I making this situation better than what it was?"

'Better' is dependent on context, of course, but your context is how you would evaluate if you chose to go this route. And your context, from your question, should include "how will I be seen if I say/do this thing?"

I love lollusc's suggestion of keeping score. Make a diary card of the behaviours you want to embody, and the ones you want to reduce. Every day, score yourself. Don't beat yourself up for not reaching what you wanted to reach, but use the numbers you see as impetus for how to act today.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:03 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dramatically reduce your caffeine intake and make an effort to sleep a solid eight hours.

You'll be more focused, less jittery weird, and it'll probably help with your lateness issues, drinking issues, and possible ADHD.
posted by spunweb at 9:05 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We all have different parts of ourselves - our work self, our child self, our sexy kitten self. Ok, maybe only some of us have the sexy kitten self but you get the idea. They aren't fake persona - they are all really you but not ALL parts of you need to show up in every setting. So, you need to get better acquainted with your professional work self. I would suggest spending some time trying to visualize (at home or with your therapist) in great detail what is like to be in your professional work self - how you talk, how you dress, and especially how it feels on the inside. Practice getting touch with the feeling of being confident, articulate, professional and then when you are at work, you get better at shifting into that mode when you need it.

You might also find it helpful to develop some "work" clothes that you associate with being in your professional work mode. Remember how Mr. Rogers used to take off his coat and put on his sweater to show it was friendship time? You want to do your own version in reverse - certain things cue your brain that now it is work time and then change out of it when you get home. For me wearing a skirt and shoes with a certain heel mean work - you can find your own.
posted by metahawk at 9:06 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

What is it you want? Do you like your job/career? Because it sounds like you have spent an awful lot of time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. While laughing it off.

Now it's not funny, is it? You see that things are required of you and you see that you don't fit in, yet you don't seem to take it all very seriously. Dressing properly, acting properly, doing your job.

When I was 21, I was doing a job and raising a young child at the same time. I didn't like it and yet I took it seriously. That is, I complied because I had to. It was a matter of paying rent and eating. And providing daycare for my child, clothes, and well, things like paying for laundry and gas for the car, etc. I didn't think about myself, I thought about getting up for work, doing a good job, and coming home and cooking supper for us.

So I ask you: do you enjoy being like this? Because obviously you are in some sort of turmoil, that requires some sort of intervention. Whether it's shifting jobs, or a therapist or what, you are obviously not thriving where you are. What would it take for you to enjoy life and thrive?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:12 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm also taking it very seriously. Sorry, but making sure I get up for 7:45 on the dot because a minute later and I might be fired is taking it pretty damn seriously. Sorry, but also I take care of my rent which is pretty damn expensive and also every other expense. I do take my job and my life vert seriously.
posted by rhythm_queen at 9:57 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll second getting evaluated for something like ADHD if you haven't done so already, especially in light of some of your other questions that deal with difficulties with being on time, staying organized, etc. The whole impulsivity/oversharing/difficulty with executive functioning can be very typical of ADHD. Or it could totally be something else, but it's certainly worth looking into. Of course, IANAD/IANYD, just someone with similar issues.

Now, for more specific recommendations:

I see this as a two prong problem. First, you have to recognize that you're doing this in the moment as opposed to after the fact, and then you have to be able to stop yourself.

For the first goal, I would recommend trying out some mindfulness exercises. Maybe your therapist will have some recommendations. You could also make a list of rules for yourself and stick to them. Like, actually write them down, and read them throughout the day. For example: 1. No dancing. 2. No sharing of personal details with coworkers. 3. No pranks. Again, this might be something to brainstorm in therapy.

More generally, cut down the caffeine, get plenty of sleep, and get more exercise, especially aerobic exercise. Even taking a walk outside can be really helpful.

Lastly, it seems like you are already aware that it's not appropriate to behave like you would with friends when you're at work. However, I think it might be helpful if you "practice" appropriate behavior in all areas of your life. When you're with your friends or family, focus on talking less, sharing less, and generally behaving the way you would in a work situation. You could explain this to your friends beforehand so they don't wonder why you've had this sudden personality shift. I just think you might have more success in a low key environment, and once you get a better handle on these techniques, it will be more natural to act this way at work as well.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:57 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Firstly, this isn't uncommon. Indeed it's especially common for young people at the start of their careers. But you can overcome it.

A lot of the behaviours you're mentioning are very inward looking, how am I acting, what will people think of me etc etc. I think a good tactic at work is looking outwards always. Don't worry about what people think of you: worry about what they are thinking about for their jobs.

You need to give them what they are looking for, in the way they like it. They are unlikely to want too much wackiness. In addition to talking less, ask more questions. Informed questions. Demonstrate you are paying attention to them and their thoughts not you and your thoughts and opinions. Make them feel their thoughts are valuable to you. Your thoughts and opinions need to be framed as helping them, the team, whoever, reach their goals. If you aren't sure, say you aren't sure without making a job about it. Escalate or defer to a manager when you need to.

I think the biggest thing though is finding a professional mentor and emulate their behaviours. Cultivate a work persona praise your actual personality. They will have commonalities but should not be the same. Keep that persona in place at work.

Best of luck, you should get there in the end.
posted by smoke at 10:35 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh ps from this question I feel like you are still... Enamoured of your eccentric persona at work a little bit, that it makes you unique and special and people that "get" it get you etc. Like it's your thing and identifier at work.

I would try to step away from that a bit further if I were you. I can be funny at work, but only with my own team, not stakeholders in the business. My personality flexes to adopt the context. You want to be known as the problem solver, not the crazy one. You have a personal brand, much as it horrifies some, you are selling yourself and you want to appeal to a broad audience.
posted by smoke at 10:39 PM on January 8, 2015 [28 favorites]

I've long held the opinion that the best, most interesting people in the world are secretly goofy, and you get rewarded by getting to see that as you get to know them more. So, in a way, you have the advantage. It's just a matter of toning it down.

You need to give yourself a little slack as you figure out this whole job/life thing. My first job out of college, I routinely walked around the office barefoot with chopsticks in my hair and demanded that the second-in-command physically wheel me to meetings(!) in my office chair because I quite honestly couldn't be bothered to walk. And would tell him so. I am sure I was completely insufferable. I've toned that down from 11 to about a 2.3 now, which seems to be as far as I can go without going full Stepford.

The big secret? No one's paying as much attention to you as you think they are.

The other secret? We're all just big children. The polished people just do a better job of playing at being adults.

My ideas for you:

1. Keep getting to work early and on time, which you've been doing, which is great.
2. Plan and prepare your work outfit/breakfast/lunch the night before so it's one less thing to be anxious about. My whole life changes on days when I am not rushing out the door.
3. Find a few folks who handle work deftly (or even particular people you admire in the media) and watch them VERY carefully. How do they speak? What's their body language? How often do they speak? What is their response rate for calls and emails? How do their approaches mesh with your personal style?
4. It's absolutely fine to be weird, just rein it in. Give yourself a second to put your words together before saying them.
5. Always keep your commitments. Reliability and integrity are worth more than just about any other quality. If you say something will be on your coworker's desk by 4pm, make sure it happens. If you commit to contacting twelve vendors by Tuesday, you have a report ready on Tuesday morning. And this is a BIG one that always impresses management/clients and makes me feel SUPER POLISHED: Make sure they never have to ask for an update.

I really disagree about the advice to default to self deprecation. Self deprecation really is the most awful thing, and it exposes anxiety and wobbliness faster than any other tic.

You're going to be fine. Just pay attention & keep your focus outward.
posted by mochapickle at 10:47 PM on January 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

You remind me of myself at your age, a lot. Have you pursued therapy and/or pharmacological agents regarding AD[H]D? Being you and thrown into a new milieu (the working week) is crazy stressful, and un-dealt-with symptoms of the AD[H]D/Anxiety/Depression comorbidity triad have wasted years of so many of the best and brightest I know.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:21 PM on January 8, 2015

There's a book called "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office" that has a lot of good advice. First off, though, you are probably being far harder on yourself than you need to be. Chances are your co-workers are less critical of your behavior -- you are probably your harshest critic!

What are your goals? What kind of work do you want to be doing going forward? If you knew you couldn't fail, what would you be doing? Start thinking of yourself as the person that you want to be, and keep that in mind. Fake it 'til you make it. You need to start thinking of yourself as the awesome, capable human that you are.
posted by Ostara at 11:27 PM on January 8, 2015

I think DarlingBri hit the nail on the head. A lot of this feels like performing that might be linked to the social anxiety, and a desire to control other people's reactions to you, or may even be unbidden reactions to tension that you experience when you feel eyes or expectations on you.

I think mindfulness would indeed help with managing tension and calming down. Yoga, too. Take deep breaths when you start to feel twitchy, and (flake alert :) ) try to pull your energy into the centre of your body, and then down into the ground. That's how you want to feel. Centered and grounded.

You know you're doing a great job, and you get the sense that people do actually like you. Ok. Remember that. Talk to coworkers the way you do with people you know well and aren't worried about impressing. The vibe you're going for underneath the (business-focused) things you actually say is "Pass the salt" (or "Here you go"). Easy and neutral.

"John, the X report something something ["pass the salt"]? Great, thanks ["here you go"]." Deep breath.

You can do it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:39 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing get evaluated for AD(H)D just in case one more person saying it will get you to do it. We have someone like this, and he has been diagnosed with big time attention disorders (we know because he told us--also many stories about how this impacted his early years, etc.). I agree with the above that it often comes down to "just sit down and shut up".

And get a different job, you learn corporate polish from people who have it and it sounds like your job is full of people who don't.
posted by anaelith at 5:06 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

When in meetings, always have a notepad and pen and take notes. This will not only keep you focused and give you something to do with your hands & brain but will also give others the impression that you are focused and care about what is happening.

Or don't take notes about the meeting - I have plenty of pages of "I hate this place" written in notebooks, or grocery lists, or whathaveyou. Write lyrics or mantras or whatever.
posted by lyssabee at 6:04 AM on January 9, 2015

Best answer: I used to be VERY outspoken at work. Professional and on topic, but in internal meetings my disdain for some of the stupid shit managers would do and say was NOT concealed. While I was usually right, no one wants to hear that they're an idiot.

One thing that really helped was to clam up. Ask yourself these questions before you do anything:

1. Does this really need to be said?

2. Does this really need to be said by me?

3. Does this really need to be said by me, right now?

Chances are, the answer to all three questions is No.

Be more reflective, think of other ways to soothe your anxiety. Are you on any anxiety meds? What does your doctor think? I calmed right the fuck down on a small dose of Celexa.

It is VERY hard to overcome a shitty reputation at work. Perception is reality. Pretty much everyone is going to need to die in order for you to have people stop thinking of you as that goofy chick. Also, even one small setback will reinforce the impression you've already given. So at some point, you'll have to wait it out, or move onto a different company. But you don't have to think about that right now.

Pot and alcohol will help NONE of this, so when going out with work folks, it's best NOT to imbibe in these things, in fact, a responsible doctor won't discuss anti-anxiety drugs with someone who is currently using. So get 100% clean in that respect. Not because you're an addict, but because you have a disorder which is exacerbated by the use of Pot, Alcohol and other drugs. I know you're not trying to hear it, but it's true.

I will tell you that no matter how fantastic a job you're doing and how amazing your sales numbers are, you will be overlooked for promotion and may in fact be fired for something minor, unless and until you get this sorted out.

As for a professional wardrobe, boring and easy care is fine. Black for all of your bottoms, slacks and skirts, is fine. Then sweaters or blouses. Boom, done. Buy things that are easy to care for, no fussy fabrics or things that need dry cleaning. No iron fabrics for shirts and blouses.

When I was first working we had to wear suits, so I had 5 suits. If that works for you, do that. 5 suits, 10 blouses, done and done.

You don't have to fool with statement necklaces, or 50 ways to tie a scarf. That's advanced and unnecessary.

You're young, and a lot will be forgiven for that. Basically, you'll have to be above reproach for behavior for twice as long as you've been acting goofy for anyone to even BEGIN to take you seriously, but it's worth it.

Also, don't be so defensive. That's really counter-productive. Rather than discount what people are saying or demanding recognition for mundane things you SHOULD be doing:

I'm also taking it very seriously. Sorry, but making sure I get up for 7:45 on the dot because a minute later and I might be fired is taking it pretty damn seriously. Sorry, but also I take care of my rent which is pretty damn expensive and also every other expense. I do take my job and my life very seriously.

Accept the advice and think to yourself, "Hmm, that's interesting, am I coming off as someone who may not be serious?" If anyone at work gives you criticism, instead of rebutting it, say, "I never thought of it that way, I'll work on it." And either shine them on or really take it on-board. (I vote for taking it on board.)

You come here a lot for things that stress you out in these settings and situations. You get pretty consistent advice and you consistently fight against it. Why is that?

Change is hard, it can often feel like people are saying that you're not a good person. Your own brain will rebel against it. "NO! I'm awesome! I just need some special trick to get people to see it! Look how successful I am!" But you AGONIZE over all this stuff, it tears you up inside. So push through the resistance and take it in. Get used to it.

You may not want to do it because what if you change and you're still a mess? Well, you'll never know until you try. As you point out, you get up in the morning and get to work on time. That's better than it used to be.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:06 AM on January 9, 2015 [15 favorites]

If you know you can come across as professional to clients, start treating everyone in your workplace as a client. Read up on the idea of internal clients -- your co-workers deserve professional treatment just as much as your clients do.
posted by shiny blue object at 6:22 AM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I feel like there's a place in the working world where your sort of personality would be more valued than it is in your current work environment. It's always important to be able to think before you speak, but when it comes to "corporate polish," really, not everyone has it, and I don't think everyone is meant to have it. If you really want to work on this side of yourself, maybe consider a course in public speaking? But seriously, it might be worth looking into where you might fit in better naturally.

I have pretty much the opposite problem, in that I'm generally very quiet and serious at work, especially if I don't feel like I fit in personality-wise. I've worked at places where this is valued because they see that I take my work seriously and do a good job, but at other places I feel like I've come off as an unsocial weirdo who probably hates everyone (I don't! really!). It's hard to change your demeanor unless you deeply want to. I tend to find it preferable to find positions where my personality is valued rather than seen as a flaw. Do you truly want to change how you act, or do you just wish you could fit in better wherever you are?
posted by bananana at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you are going to pursue a medical/psych eval, perhaps you might discuss social anxiety. While you are working on the very helpful and detailed behavior modifications up thread, you might also discuss with your physician if the medication Inderal would be appropriate for you, short term. It is an anti-hypertensive med frequently prescribed off-label for social anxiety ... and would perhaps calm you while you work on the behaviors you wish to project at work. The usual IANAD/IANYD caveats apply, but it may be an option.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 10:43 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey there,

I've been following your posts for a while. You are such a vivid and engaging writer, and your personality leaps off the page. Even when you're talking about serious problems, you come off as vivacious and funny and full of life. You seem like someone I would like a ton in the real world. I love getting updates on your life. So I hope you will take this in the spirit of affection and care with which it's meant: I think you should probably stop using askme in the way you're using it.

The impulse to self-improve is an admirable one. Of course it is. But in a way, reading these questions, I can't help but feel like I'm watching a person with an eating disorder ask over and over again about advice for how to healthily cut calories. Sure, eating healthy is a good thing! But repeatedly asking people to criticize your diet when you're struggling to create a positive relationship with your body is not. I'd like to gently suggest that your problem isn't your workplace behavior, or your messiness, or even your drinking - your problem is that your inner critic is running rough shod over you right now, and it's distorting your self-image in an unhealthy way.

In the same way that a person with anorexia can look in the mirror and see someone grotesquely overweight even when they're dangerously thin, you see giant, looming flaws where I am very confident other people would see tiny, almost imperceptible bumps, or even strengths. Remember how you interpreted that drunk-dancing episode as a humiliating disaster, when it turned out hardly any one had noticed at the time? I bet that if we asked people in the workplace to give an account of your 'lack of professionalism,' their description of your behavior would be similarly mild. I bet people like you a lot. I'm skeptical that they don't "trust you in client meetings." In fact, I'd wager a hundred dollars that you're taking a couple of offhand comments and exaggerating them into a wholesale negative judgment of your character.

In that context, seeing you get advice that would be blunt but useful in a different context (i.e. 'talk less') makes me wince here. I know this is going to be hard for you to believe, but you simply do not need to improve in the way you think you do, and turning your giant whirling brain on yourself is almost certainly doing you more harm than good. Posting these askme's might feel good in the short term, like you're tackling your anxieties head-on and taking control of your problems, but in the long-term, it's not a healthy exercise. You don't need to sit down every week and write four or five paragraphs about what you think is wrong with you, and you don't need a bunch of people who are a lot older than you telling you a thousand different ways in which you should fix yourself. You don't need fixing. You need help being kinder to yourself, and forgiving yourself, and seeing yourself more clearly, and that's something that has to happen in therapy, not here.

Anyway, I hope this doesn't come off as condescending or presumptuous, but I hope that the next time you sit down to write an askme that boils down to "How can I fix this personality flaw?" you will imagine me on the other side of the computer thinking "Rhythm_queen, you are a really cool kid but you are SO hard on yourself. Maybe this problem isn't as bad as you think it is, and instead of posting to askme, you should meditate for a while, maybe call your therapist, and then go take a walk and buy yourself an ice cream."

posted by pretentious illiterate at 10:49 AM on January 9, 2015 [15 favorites]

It is VERY hard to overcome a shitty reputation at work...Pretty much everyone is going to need to die in order for you to have people stop thinking of you as that goofy chick.

On the contrary, I think people are actually much more charitable than that and I think most of us adjust our judgements of people pretty readily when they change their behavior/words, especially when they are already rooting for you (and I think they are).

I want to strongly second this:

not ALL parts of you need to show up in every setting

I have a beloved friend who would let out a lot of her unique, nervous-energized goofy behavior in job interviews and she wasn't landing the jobs. She found that she couldn't stop herself, largely because she felt inauthentic when she wasn't showing who she really is. I love her personality; she is AWESOME and could rock any job. My advice was pretty much exactly what metahawk said above: not ALL parts of you need to show up in every setting. You are still authentic and you when you censor your behavior at work, to the degree that's appropriate, on a situation to situation basis. She toned it down and landed the next job.

(For what it's worth, I wish you worked at my job!)
posted by kitcat at 11:53 AM on January 9, 2015

Here's another thing to consider: Any time you are rambling (which tends to crowd other people out of the conversation) acting in unusual ways (dancing, pranks, etc) that call attention to yourself, etc... the biggest thing you are not doing that moment is listening to the other person. If your brain is running around in circles thinking "What do they think of me? I'm so awkward! Am I doing/saying the right thing?" All of those things are I/me thoughts, and the people you are working with are going to feel that you are not really present with them.

If you want to connect with people in the office, you have to sincerely be there for the people you work with. Give them your undivided attention when you are working together, listen to their needs, and generally make it clear that you value their time and attention. (That doesn't mean be a doormat. When you genuinely listen to someone's request from you, and take them seriously, sometimes the answer is still "I'm sorry, I can't help you")

What you will find is that it turns things around the opposite way - If you are really giving the person you are talking to your undivided attention, you don't have as much distracted monkey brain running around sending awkward things out of your mouth.

I think all "professional behavior" really follows from spending more time listening than talking, more time paying attention than multitasking, and more time considering what you can do to help your client/team/etc look good than thinking about what makes you look good.
posted by antimony at 9:49 PM on January 9, 2015

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