This week, I’d like to share 3 big fixes you can make at work, which will revamp your own personal brand and help you stand out in the workplace without seeming like you’re trying too hard. It’s all about finding your authentic self and presenting naturally and confidently at work.
-Don’t be afraid to own your space
One common way women are taught to act in the workplace is as a confined, compacted unit. Women are taught that they should be well put together, and that’s no bad thing. But we’re also often taught unconsciously to act in a way that is confined and restrictive. Think about the model of an ideal board meeting you see in training videos and workshops. The male executive is excited about his new initiative, so he laughs broadly and loudly, gestures widely, and generally takes up space. He seems confident, and that sells. In the female version of this scenario, what do you think of? I think most of us think of a very tightly-wound woman clutching a folder, speaking from a small area, and gesturing in a narrow field. She’s very competent, but is she naturally confident?
Check yourself in a meeting. How are you reacting to the energy you’re getting from male colleagues. Are you shrinking back, or finding you have to overcompensate to meet them? Don’t feel you have to do either.
Project a natural energy, owning your space. Practice breathing deeply in meetings and workshops. You’ll find that your body relaxes into its own rhythm, and finds its own natural posture that is upright and alert without seeming anxious or rigid, both aspects that don’t project confidence. Allow yourself to act with your own natural reactions, remarks, and expressions, staying in control, but not constricting yourself to that mannequin model of a female businessperson. Start with the breathing, and work outwards. Find your flow, assert your natural energy in your space, and watch what happens with your co-workers.
One way to help center your breathing in the course of the day is to take a good walk. I’ve written a piece on that, where you’ll learn all about how to use careful break planning and good walking shoes to re-focus and stay productive into the afternoons.
-Speak up with composure
It can take years to master the art of being heard, rather than simply being listened to. Female employees and executives are taught that the “professional woman” is reserved, quiet, and receptive, not responsive. We’re taught to speak up nervously, or else in an outburst because we’re dealing with something that we’ve been holding in for too long.
I encourage you to find your voice during meetings, workshops and consultations. Never be afraid to speak up, but make sure you’re doing so from a place of calm, a place of confidence, and a sense of self. If you have something to say, chances are it’s important. I encourage you to find your authentic voice, your personal way of engaging with tough topics and decisions without losing your cool. As I said with regard to taking up space, work with your breathing, to keep yourself collected.
With a clear head and respectful tone, say what’s on your mind. Lead with “I” statements, and refrain from leading with “attacking” or “aggressive”-sounding statements that begin with “you” or “they”. Lead with your own feelings, and you can begin to open up a conversation. Instead of being knows as “that woman who freaked out”, you’ll be a source of inspiration, and a voice of integrity in your meetings.
I found that once I discovered an assertive and authentic presence in meetings, I started deepening bonds with coworkers, who felt they could confide in me or empathize in a new way. I also found that higher-ranking executives came to trust my feedback in a much more consistent way, even if we disagreed on some concrete policy or initiative.
-Be open and receptive, without losing your sense of control
Finally, I encourage you to take that sense of confidence and composure from the meeting setting to your everyday interactions with coworkers. There are a lot of stereotypes about women in the workplace, from the “needy” one to the “oversharer.” Subvert all these labels by being open and receptive to concerns your peers may have, without projecting an anxious “nosiness”. Focus on having a warm, personable energy that’s open, but not intrusive. Let people in, but don’t force someone to engage. If you present confidence and warmth, people will seek you out. It’s also healthy to remember that being assertive does not mean to dominate or to dictate.
Don’t overshare, though, and don’t be afraid to know your own personal boundaries. You won’t be best friends with everyone at work, and you don’t need to lead people on in that way. However, you should foster an environment where your colleagues feel that they can open up in whatever way they need to without feeling pushed or pressured. Set your own boundaries without making anyone feel personally shut out.
By creating a strong sense of self that draws people in naturally, you’ll build better workplace relationships, and find a more intuitive balance of work and personal matters in conversations.