Any entrepreneur will tell you that startup life is not for the easily daunted. Rejection, product failures, and isolation are just a few of the tests that many entrepreneurs are put through on a routine basis. Add youth and inexperience to the list of things working against you—and you can see how a startup can seem like nothing but a harsh, uphill endeavor. Luckily, entrepreneurs tend to be more optimistic than other workers, a factor that keeps them pitching to prospects and looking for ways to prove their value.
For most professionals, the use of words like “Uh,” “Um” and “So…” can easily get out of control if we’re not conscious of them. These innocent-seeming filler words aren’t an issue when they’re said once or twice in a meeting (in which case they can actually make a person seem more considered), it’s their repetitive use that really kills a person’s credibility.
Perhaps you’re unprepared in a meeting and struggling to answer a tough question. Maybe you’re overtired and stammering to focus on your central point or get out the corresponding words. Whatever the case, when we hear consistent verbal stumbling, we assume the speaker is unsure of herself.
If there’s one force that can either sabotage or propel your message, it’s your body. With it, we can signal that we own the stage or that we bring irreplaceable value and importance to a meeting. Conversely, we can communicate through our bodies that we’re not totally bought in to our ideas…or ourselves. With so much body language advice pointed at women—and it seems there are hundreds of do’s and don’ts—some professionals are more than overwhelmed with advice, they’re paralyzed by it.
Just last week, a Director at a well-regarded business school explained to me that she couldn’t get female business students to apply for the annual business plan competition. Despite her encouragement and rallying, she just couldn’t convince more women to enter. As I considered her quandary, I couldn’t help but see this as a problem that persists well after business school.
Have you ever been tempted to ignore your agenda in order to keep harmony? Maybe you behaved cooperatively to avoid unwanted attention or being the dissenter on a matter. Perhaps you dodged using your voice because the potential damage to a relationship was just too great. Whether you engage in these slights to yourself a little bit or a lot, you have pleaser tendencies. And I can assure you, those default behaviors aren’t endearing you to others the way you may think they are.
Have you ever sat in a meeting and felt ignored or utterly unimportant? Perhaps you offered up an idea that someone else seized upon. Maybe you inserted yourself into the conversation but no one gave you their eye contact or their attention. Whether you’re the youngest in the room or the one from a department no one respects (or you’re just not getting your due for unknown reasons), you can lean on these four strategies to re-assert yourself.
For most of us, working on projects and deliverables by ourselves is becoming increasingly scarce. We are constantly joining existing teams, forming new ones or otherwise meeting in groups. In fact, studies of managers and knowledge workers reveal that they spend between 25%-80% of their time in meetings, suggesting that “teamwork” is a primary vehicle for the modern business today. And, meeting time has only increased since 2008.
Have you ever watched a co-worker over-contemplate and protract a basic decision? It doesn’t inspire confidence, does it? If anything, appearing indecisive tends to make us doubt a person. We may assume our peer is trying to play it safe and protect themselves from risk at any cost. We may think they lack the grit necessary to deal with the consequences, good or bad. We may even question their knowledge and experience.
It’s no wonder that for many people, the fear of public speaking registers as more terrifying than the fear of death. Just think about where are minds go when we’re about to give a key presentation and all eyes are on us. So often, what we tell ourselves in this critical moment is not in any way conducive to presenting well. Then there’s our bodies which add some other complications to manage: the light feeling in our stomach, the tight, short breaths, and the booming heartbeat. All the while we’re trying to harness our deepest concentration and most eloquent words!
One year ago, I stood in front of 175 women at a beautiful, classy affair in New York City and found myself questioning my abilities much more than usual. While I always have some flutters before getting on a stage for a speech, this time it was different. Actually…my entire life was completely different. I was now a mom and this was my first presentation post-maternity leave.
On a regular old day, you’re plugging along, attending to the work tasks in front of you. Maybe you’re plotting out what assignments are coming up. Maybe you’re engrossed in a project with a tight deadline. Either way, you’re feeling good, generally speaking, about your work, your career decisions and progress.
And then you do it.
JK Rowling pitched the Harry Potter book series to twelve publishing houses. And ALL OF THEM rejected her manuscript. She persevered and it was finally lucky number 13, a very small publishing house in London that took a chance agreeing to publish the work. Suppose JK had given up after 6 “no’s” and scrapped the project, stuck with her secretarial job, and gave up on writing?
Why is it so commonplace to hear women declare that “they’re terrible at math?” Do we have an allergy to figures? A lack of interest? Or is there a wider perception that we’ve digested that women are somehow less adept with numbers? Either way, what a truly useless notion.
While there's long been excitement and intrigue associated with taking a job abroad, many of us―particularly women―have also heard unflattering accounts. One executive I met recounted the time she went on assignment to Saudi Arabia, only to address a blank wall each day she kicked off status meetings. As it turned out, no males from her host country were willing to make eye contact with her. There's also the story of the fast-tracking woman who journeys to Asia Pacific, takes a job heading up a business unit and finds she's neither seen nor heard. Her host colleagues don't know quite where to place her, a point echoed by the fact that there are no women's restrooms on executive floors.
Bosses are often consumed with so much that they don't know what you're working on, let alone what's going well. Strive to make your managers' job easier by proactively keeping them abreast of your achievements.
How can you share more of your accomplishments?
Sometimes in our zeal to stand out from the crowd at work, we miss some of the high-impact opportunities sitting right in front of us. Asking for feedback is exactly one of these opportunities—and one which presents itself daily. Aside from demonstrating that we’re hungry to learn and improve, asking for feedback shows something even more fundamental. That we care. We care about our performance, our contribution, and our reputation.
Many of us live in fear of screwing up. The possible consequences are all too familiar: embarrassment, a damaged reputation, and of course, what they will think of us.
Nine months into traveling around the country, promoting the ideas in my book to different audiences of women, I found myself on top of the world the other day.
I had a particularly high-pressure presentation to give, to a large, extremely established crowd. My points of contact had a very clear picture of what they wanted, and I wanted very much to deliver. I researched details about the client and felt pretty well prepared.
We’ve all had those days when it feels like we’re just going through the motions. Our magic is missing. Our sparkle is lost. Our “get up and go” has gotten up and gone .
Is there a risk that you've been talking yourself out of? That's a question I often ask in my leadership workshops and one that creates quite a buzz in the room. Participants will call to mind those deep down goals they've been sidestepping and chatter follows about the baby steps they could take to make their goal happen. While the excitement is clear, there are inevitably lots of questions about what happens if a risk flops.
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