Venturing into Corporate Jungle
Working your butt off, but still not getting respect at the office? Are your million-dollar ideas getting shot down like ducks at a shooting gallery? Or even worse, are you being ignored? You could be sabotaging your message before you even complete your first sentence. Learn to come across as competent and professional before you open your mouth by projecting the right image and behavior.
If you are struggling to get positive notice for your great ideas and your hard work, your image could be the culprit. How others perceive you counts for a lot in the world of work. When you have something to say, within 60 seconds, your listeners have already formed opinions about you and the quality of your ideas — and you might not be finished talking yet. If you’re contradicting your message, those brilliant ideas will get lost on their way to your audience’s ears.
You would not able to know how dangerous is the jungle out there. To eat or to be eaten.
Image still is something
You can give credence to the work you do if you look the part. Take the time to decide how you want to be perceived, says Anne Warfield, president of Image Management Professionals in Minneapolis. She suggests, “Critically look at your wardrobe.
The proper “uniform” for your job depends on your industry and your particular company. The most obvious example is the finance world where professionals are expected to be trustworthy and serious since they’re dealing with people’s money — therefore conservative dress is appropriate. In contrast, the computer industry helped begin and spread the concept of casual day everyday. Someone in a three-piece suit wouldn’t fit in with a bunch of long-haired geek programmers who proudly work 90 hours a week.
Attention to detail can count for more than expensive threads. Whether your industry demands white shirts with ties or allows Hawaiian shirts, taking an iron to that shirt can make all the difference in a client’s or a boss’ first 60-second impression of you.
Don’t let your body betray you
Even if you dress the part of a professional, you still might not be there. Warfield explains that 65 to 95 percent of your message is read through body language and voice intonation. She explains, “A lot of the time, the words, body language and image don’t fit together.” To be taken seriously, you’ll want to make sure your body language matches the message you are trying to send about the quality of your work.
You want body language that exudes competence and confidence. In other words, your crabby old teacher was right: stand up straight. Besides slouching, be aware of other undercutting and negative body language, such as nail biting, scratching your head or not looking someone in the eye. Those nervous habits can damage your chances of being taken seriously.
Another note on body language: You’re revealing more than just your confidence level in the way you move your body. Negative attitudes are hard to cover up just with good posture. If you’re not taking clients seriously or are resentful of your boss, then body language can be sending a loud and clear message to them about how you feel. If this is true for you, find a way to improve your attitude or change your job.
Timing and planning will also improve your odds of being taken seriously. A few bosses might tolerate you running into their office, spouting a half-formed idea off the top of your head. But if your boss is like mine, he or she doesn’t have the time for that. A busy boss will appreciate efficiency nearly as much as good ideas.
Now for the obvious question: Is your idea worth presenting? Especially if you’re young or new on the job, you might want to make sure you’re presenting a real winner of a proposal, explains Marilyn Bedford, executive director of Professional Development Program at Franklin College in Franklin, Ind. She says, “Assess and manage the risk. Ask yourself, ‘Is this a good enough idea?'”
So when you have a proposal for the boss or anyone, to get your message across clearly, Warfield suggests framing your message by asking yourself these key questions:
1. What do I want this person to be thinking about? What’s the bottom line? Warfield says get to “the guts” of your message right away.
2. What’s going to stop this person from listening? What objections will they have? Shatter them early, advises Warfield.
3. How can I support my message? Appeal to them logically or emotionally, says Warfield, whichever will work. Remember to use data, facts and examples to strengthen your message.
4. What’s my call to action? What do I want this person to do in response to my idea or message?
Warfield also suggests trying to come from the other person’s perspective. She explains, “Look at how does this add value to the other person.”
Think before you speak
Finally, before your next big meeting, take a look — or more appropriately, a listen — to how you talk, says Warfield. Do you phrase things with a question at the end? Do you fade off before you finish? Do you talk around the subject, boring your listeners before getting to your point? Bad communication skills could be causing your ideas to be misunderstood or just plain ignored.
Ilene Amiel, co-author of “Business Casual,” in Scarsdale, N.Y., provides these communication skills for improving your verbal presentation:
1. Be articulate and clear.
2. Think before you speak.
3. Listen effectively.
4. Build on ideas of others.
5. Be prepared.
Mind your manners
In addition to body language and communication skills, your manners say more about you than anything you say. Amiel says, “That’s stuff that younger people don’t get.” We’re not talking the “Yes, sir” and “Please” type manners, though those are a good idea, too. Nor does this mean bending over backward for everyone. Be polite, yet strong.
For a good professional image, Amiel and Bedford remind us about some of those things we all learned in kindergarten:
1. Respect your parents (In grown-up terms: Respect the hierarchy.)
2. Don’t eat the crayons (In grown-up terms: Don’t usurp anyone’s ideas).
3. Be nice (In grown-up terms: Be diplomatic and mature).
4. No hitting (In grown-up terms: Don’t act aggressive).
5. Wait for your turn (Means the same thing today).
6. Pay attention (Ditto).
7. Don’t run with scissors (I added that one to their list — always seemed like good advice to me).
Professional manners still matter when you’re on the phone, too. Amiel recommends using good telephone manners, be positive and be of service. This phone etiquette goes for both answering and calling.
When answering a call, a hurried “Hi!” or a gruff “WHAT?” are not professional. Amiel recommends that you say your name and title after picking up that receiver. When phoning someone else, don’t just launch into whatever’s on your mind, disregarding anything you may have interrupted. Amiel recommends, “If you call someone, ask ‘Is this a good time?’ Show respect for the other person and their schedule.”
Another part of being professional is being able to handle constructive criticism, says Bedford. Reacting to criticism of your work by breaking down or getting angry will not impress your co-workers or boss. If you can take that information and use it to improve yourself and your work, you’ll have proven yourself competent and mature.
Warfield says just following these guidelines won’t take you far on the job. There still needs to be hard work and good ideas behind your shiny professional image. She explains, “If you own these things, you’ll own your career and where you are going. I don’t believe in just putting together a glitzy package. Walk the talk.”
So, remember, the packaging does count — when it matches your award-winning substance. Make your presentation as attractive as your ideas, and you can guarantee yourself a spot on the fast track.