After getting an office job almost 3 years ago, I’ve picked up some tips (aka: mistakes and lessons learned) for women in the workplace and for anyone looking to be more confident in their profession. Let’s jump right in:
1. Don’t say sorry when you mean something else. Say excuse me, pardon me, or Hello There.
- Don’t say sorry when you mean “pardon” or “excuse me.” I caught myself saying “sorry” ALL the time when I would turn a sharp corner and almost bump into someone. And you know what? Other women would say “sorry” as well, but men almost NEVER say it.
- If you round a corner to fast, try saying “Oh, hey there!” with a smile. Or just say “Pardon” and be on your merry way. There’s this misconception that women always have to be smiles and polite or else they’re being bitchy. Aside from being sexist, that’s just untrue.
- Don’t say sorry in conversations with coworkers when what you mean to say is “Hey, I want to to say something, but I don’t want to interrupt.” Just say it. Or have a polite-interruption lead in, like “What about…” or “So what if…” Saying sorry isn’t polite. It’s an apology. Be polite, not apologetic. Be strong!
2. Walk in the middle of the hallway.
- If it’s a long empty stretch of hallway and there’s no one around, take that middle road. Stride down the hall like you own it! Too often, I see women hugging the wall, when oftentimes we’re the faster-paced among the hallway walkers. I’m not saying barge into folks when they’re walking by you or to block the path forward, but this is just a small example of stepping forward and owning your own space.
- Eye contact: I’ve found that people make eye contact with people they’re walking past you, but very briefly. The eye contact lasts for less than a second and typically occurs when they’re 3-6 steps away. Sometimes they nod and say hello, but most often the eye contact is brief and uneventful.
- Also, a tip I’ve found (because I’m that weirdo who nods and either smiles or says hello to everyone I pass), is that if you’re going to smile at someone as you make eye-contact, make sure to keep your smile until you pass them. Peripheral vision is powerful, and I can’t tell you how many times out in the real world, I see people do the “polite” smile and then go back to grumpy-face or neutral face immediately afterward. I’m not saying you have to smile at everyone/anyone, but just that I find it to have a more positive impact on my own mood if I let my smile last a bit longer. Then, it’s almost like each of those small interactions are built to improve my mood.
3. In that same spirit, take the lead when walking with a group.
- Don’t just trail behind (unless you don’t know where you’re going, in which case you should not lead the way haha). Oftentimes, you can kind of walk in an awkward group together, but you’ll find that some circumstances require more single-file movements.
- If you have to file single file, pick up the pace and drop in line ahead of your coworkers or slip in behind them. Be the person to proactively adjust, because it shows forethought, spatial awareness, and initiative of group dynamic movements. Regain your position when you can.
- I know it sounds like I’m over-thinking it, but just think about how often you take the lead and how often you just mill forward with the group. Really, you just want to take notice of where you’re reflexive behaviors are. Once you identify them, challenge them!
4. Another reflexive thing I see myself and others doing: folding in on yourself at meetings.
- Try changing your posture. Sit up straight. Put your elbows on the table. Sit with your legs apart instead of crossed legs. Basically: rethink a thing that you do without thinking: posture.
- If you’re tall, lower your chair to the proper height for the table. If you’re short, raise it up. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of fumbling around for the hidden level on the chair. Comfort is important. I’ve had many a ice-breaking conversation at meetings that start with “Geez, how do you adjust these seats?”
- Keeping your elbows on the table is a way to lean forward and stay involved in the conversation. It says “I’m participating and paying attention, and I’m ready to learn and lead.” Plus, it can keep you from rolling away and fidgeting in a rolly chair (not that I do that).
- I know it can be a comfort or a wardrobe or a body temperature thing, especially for women. But if you’ve ever had a guy sit across from you, wide stance, slouch with their arms spread out wide, and mansplain your job to you, you know there is power in posture. Try mirroring the posture of someone you respect. See how it changes your whole dynamic. It’s just super interesting to change the way you present yourself, because it’s SO automatic and subconscious. Challenge the way your brain works! It’s a fascinating experience!
5. Think first, then ask. But don’t overthink.
- I can’t tell you how many times I take an immediate question to someone else without really thinking about it first. Then they ask a question I don’t know the answer to, and I realize I’ve basically made a gut reaction of complaining instead of thinking about the issue. Take some time. Think about it. Don’t just react. When I see something dumb, and I *immediately* wheel around and tell someone. Which is cathartic and lets me move on, but it isn’t productive for the unlucky soul I keep distracting (sorry, David). Communication, as with most things, requires balance.
- I’ve also had the opposite issue, where I reach a problem, come up with a complicated solution, only to have someone say “Oh, we can just do THIS, and it’s all fixed.” Working in a vacuum bubble is never good. Vacuum bubbles are a straight ticket to a world of popped balloons.
- Basically, there’s a long gray smudgy line between not thinking enough and overthinking. I wish it was clear-cut, but it’s not.
If you have any tips you’ve picked up at your office, let me know! I’m a weird nerd who pays too much attention to social dynamics and physical behaviors, so I’m always looking to learn more!