New and improved! Professional persona edition.
February 20, 2015 1:08 PM   Subscribe

As it stands, I'm being groomed for a promotion that puts me on the 'managerial' side of the line. What steps can I take to reinvent my work persona in a way that encourages my peers to change their perception of me? Difficulty level - three years deep into the class clown act.

First off, let us assume that I really am a lovely person, and that I deserve this promotion. I put a lot of work learning how to effectuate change by driving the business, and I dedicate myself to understanding the trends in my department. The growth and change I've set into motion was enough to make my management team notice that I had outgrown the standards for my current position - which basically boils down to efficiently following a set of tasks.

Problem? My peers have no fricken idea how much I've levelled my skills up... and the department segregation leaves me no working opportunity to let them see me do my thing. They know of me only what I've presented... and I have wasted every interaction trying to make them all laugh.

Of course, most of them are happy to engage in light banter, or indulge in making fun of stuff, and I'm happy to contribute to good morale! But who's smart enough to use that in moderation? Not me! I can't take anything seriously!

Guess what I use to deal with things I find uncomfortable? And instead of analyzing what I did vs. what I could have done to deal with that nightmare client? I'm pretty entertaining, but it's come at the cost of my peers confidence in my abilities - I've barely been accepted as "competent for directing the youngest staff" by their standards, why should I be directing anybody else!?

So, hivemind, hit me. I've got a few months to work this out. Tips? Tricks? Advice? Things I don't want to hear? If you worked with me, what changes would make you think, "Wow, anon is starting to grow up/starting to take things seriously/not a terrible influence on newbies anymore".

Please consider....

-jealousy isn't an issue (I'm the only one interested in the position)

-most employees on the associate level are coming around to seeing me in that position (I'd cut a lot of my bullshit out before they started)... this is about the other supervisors, all of whom have known me since day 1, and are at least 15-20 years older than I am.

-my googling lead to a lot of great advice on how to make and maintain first impressions... but not the reinvent the wheel stuff I'm looking for

-As much as I've taken it way too far, some of this behaviour is actually encouraged and I would come across as phony if I tossed it out all together.

Here have some throwaway -

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Three quick ideas:
  • Change your speech patterns: think before you talk; little-to-no cursing; and only talk about half as much as you used to. That should get rid of the chaff, and leave behind the important stuff.

  • Similarly, much of the time dress a notch better than you used to. Not M-F suits, but occasionally look the part.

  • As difficult as it may be for you to do, thanks to commendable humility, let people know that you are the one who "effectuate[d] change by driving the business."

    Be prepared that some folks will consider you a traitor for this.

  • posted by wenestvedt at 1:23 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

    Can you change your look? Cut your hair, go for a more conservative color, dress more formally, and then shave the roughest edges of your clown act?

    It's kind of a cliche - oh, look, X is cleaning up their act - but it works.
    posted by Lyn Never at 1:24 PM on February 20, 2015

    As much as I've taken it way too far, some of this behaviour is actually encouraged and I would come across as phony if I tossed it out all together.

    I call bullshit on that.

    I was the sarcastic, dour wit in my department. And I was at a crossroads too. Know what? I just bit the bullet and started acting normal. And if anyone thought you were being phony, so what? Its not like that sort of thing is prized by management or appreciated. The only people who like it are your co-workers, the ones who are either content with never moving up, or the ones who are happy to let you stick your neck out to make the point they're too chicken to make.

    I stopped shouting out silly things in meetings, I stopped doing happy hour EVERY night and bitching up a storm with my co-workers. I stopped bitching up a storm. I started saying positive things when people would try to engage me in slag-a-thons.

    Funny thing, everyone expected me to be the one to say whatever when managers were trying to pass down some new management bs. No one else had the balls. So did someone step up and take over when I finally shut up and got on with succeeding in MY career? Nope.

    What other people think of you is none of your business. Frankly, I'd rather start acting mature and managerial, and get a promotion and a raise, than stay a clown so other people don't think I'm a phony.

    If anyone says anything to you about the change, you can say, "There's a time and place for silliness, I'm trying to do better to project an appropriate work demeanor." Then walk away before they can say anything else.
    posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:27 PM on February 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

    Two things have had me go from office clown to promoted and on track for more...
    1. Read The Charisma Myth. Seriously, this is not a joke book.
    2. I became well groomed and professionally dressed. You would not believe how serious people took me and how many comments I received on just minor changes like maintaining well groomed facial hair and wearing a blazer. It's unreal.

    Bonus third thing for leaders:
    3. Don't (most times) come to people just with a problem, come to them with an idea for a solution to that problem.

    My boss just gave me a performance review that I requested, and he actually went out of his way to mention how professional I looked and the opinions that was influencing.
    posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:30 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

    If you dress on the casual side, dressing a step-up could be a fairly subtle signal that you are taking your job/career more seriously. It is also an excuse to take all your work clothes out and organized by type/color and see if there are any missing pieces in your wardrobe and remove ratty or inappropriate pieces.

    Then I would subtly shift away from the more obvious clowning around. It is who you are and I would never suggest removing that completely from your personality. It will be too much of a shift for your co-workers and might make you sound really stiff. Try to hold back once a day for a while. Got a great joke - terrific, but not all of them need to be shared. Once you start instilling this in yourself you will be able to edit yourself to the best of the appropriate work-related joshing around. And that should be part of it, too. Are there jokes or joshing around that are borderline appropriate, do you ever think, hey, maybe I shouldn't have said/done that? Perfect, there is a filter you can use. Over time your joking will become gentler and more subtle, maybe you won't get as many laughs, and if you miss that, find an outlet outside of work.
    posted by dawg-proud at 1:31 PM on February 20, 2015

    I went through this about 7 years ago when I scored a project based position two or three levels of management above where I was. My approach was to just do the job and not worry too much about people's perceptions. I remember a good number of raised eyebrows, they never seemed to amount to anything though - my various managers above me had my back and that was known. I also was the funny bloke, that stuff gradually tapered off without me being terribly deliberate about it (I'm still a little bit funny...).

    tl;dr: Don't worry about it. Do your new job competently. Other people's surprise is not your concern.
    posted by deadwax at 2:00 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

    I don't think that you should, or even really can, have a complete personality transplant overnight. You're doing well at work with the personality you already have, so keep that in mind.

    But I agree with dawg-proud that becoming a little more conscious of how you are presenting yourself so that you can tone it down is a very good idea. You don't have to go from wearing jeans and humorous t-shirts to wearing pinstripe suits, but you should start to present yourself in a more managerial style, whatever that means at your workplace. And you don't have to stop saying funny things, but maybe not every funny thing that pops into your head.

    One thing I'd caution from personal experience -- I went through something a little related, and I felt a certain anxiety and pressure when I tried to tamp myself down a bit. This sometimes would come out of me as something sounding impatient or snappish even though I really wasn't feeling angry or frustrated by the people around me -- it was my own internal stuff that was making me feel this way. So do be alert to making sure you're not taking out the adjustment on those around you.
    posted by gateau at 2:03 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

    A friend of mine used to read corporate memos out loud to his coworkers, in a funny voice and with snarky commentary. Then he got promoted. He told me that the next time he did the 'read out loud' thing, it took him a couple of minutes to realize that nobody was laughing like they usually did -- instead they were avoiding his eyes, and kind of twisting in their chairs awkwardly. They had made the switch to him being a manager, and he was the one who needed to catch up.

    When you become a manager, like it or not, you become more a role than an individual -- you no longer have the luxury of being solely the class clown or the introvert or the guy who only cares about music or whatever. I don't know your workplace culture, but here's what that usually looks like in practice:

    -- Before you say something, ask yourself what purpose it serves. If there isn't one, skip it.
    -- Never say anything you wouldn't want tweeted. So, e.g., do not trash-talk or gossip. Especially about clients, Jesus Christ.
    -- If you're jokey because you're conflict-averse or need everyone to like you, I'd advise you to get a coach and work through it. It will seriously hold you back otherwise.

    Not sure if you'll be managing other people but if so here are three more tips:

    -- Don't joke about your own authority. Particularly, never joke that you're going to fire somebody, or that someone should be afraid of you, or that you're going to "make" someone do something.
    -- Don't joke to relieve tension in a situation you find uncomfortable, like in a performance review.
    -- A big management responsibility is to establish and maintain tone. So in any particular situation, rather than defaulting to funny, think about how your workplace needs people to feel (focused? confident? relieved?) and be that instead.

    Good luck.
    posted by Susan PG at 7:33 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

    I realized I was a leader when my boss came into my office, pounded his fist on my table, and said "Goddammit, elmay, I wish you would quit screwing around and leading people in the wrong direction. I'm trying to create something good in this team, and you're just messing it up!" [or words to that effect -- that was over 20 years ago :)].

    I decided to see what I could do by cooperating with him because I did respect him and appreciate what he was trying to accomplish. A few years later, I was promoted in a fairly visible way (I was the first female manager on a site of about 1500 people).

    As @OnTheLastCastle indicated, read the Charisma Myth -- I've had a lot of professional development over the years, and this book encapsulates a lot of what I've learned about dealing with people. You may also want to find a mentor with whom you can talk over specific situations. I've had mentors inside and outside my workplace -- there are advantages to each.

    And, your sense of humor can still come out -- it just needs to be tempered and appropriate to the situation. Good luck!
    posted by elmay at 7:26 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Be willing to accept and poke fun at yourself for "selling out to the man". A certain amount of mock-rueful "yeah, that was the old me, now I have to be a good example for you clowns" can go a long way to helping people accept it. I mean, you can't pretend that was never you and act like you are shocked when people do the very same things you used to. But the majority of people can respect and understand growing up as long as you're not hypocritical about it.
    posted by ctmf at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Hi there, anon, I work with you. No, not really-- but I have someone at my workplace in a similar situation. So here's what you don't do: Don't focus all your energy on proving to your coworkers who you aren't. If you got drunk at the office xmas party three years ago and threw up, then that happened. We all saw it. We're not going to engage in collective amnesia for your benefit.

    Do be honest. You've grown your mad skills and you deserve this promotion-- great! Proof is in the pudding. Relax about double-plus proving yourself to your coworkers. It's annoying and comes off as disingenuous. We can all smell a phony, so don't be one.

    That all said, give yourself a break. You can't control what your coworkers think of you. Some people will come around with time because, hey, you haven't thrown up at the last two xmas parties and that thing you did on project X was really boss. Some people are grumpy and want to be jerks for the long term. Don't worry your pretty little head about these people and their problems.

    So be genuine, and don't be a douche. All shall be revealed in time. Focus on your work, and doing it well. The rest will follow.
    posted by tamarack at 4:02 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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