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Ignore this professional advice

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Me: I should really try to follow this professional advice. 
Me to me: Ignore it.

Hey, I see you there. Setting goals, meeting them, just being generally reliable and competent. But... is that enough? Assertive, articulate, logical people are esteemed, and traditional professional advice is full of rules about how to behave more like them: Stop saying these 5 things; Never ask this question at work; Don’t get emotional; Don’t ruin your chances with these 7 behaviors; Take control of situations; and so on.

Some of us are left to worry that our speech, mannerisms, personality or emotions are undermining our own success. While I’m not sure it’s productive to write off ALL professional advice, sometimes Evil Kermit has a point. Here are 5 oft-heard directives I believe we can just stop worrying about.

Advice: Stop saying “just”
Why you can ignore it:

Hesitations, disclaimers, and hedges may make you sound less dominant and assertive. But you also come off as warm, collaborative and cooperativeAccording to this research summary, “In groups that require a lot of teamwork, team members are looking for people who have good team skills, who care about other people. Those personality attributes are more important than how dominant or ambitious you are.” 

Advice: Stop apologizing
Why you can ignore it:

We’ve been told apologies come off as submissive, or even passive aggressive. Yet, your reaction to apologize may be your ingrained sensibility towards kindness, concern for others feelings, or a productive attempt to move on from low-level conflict. Of course, you should never feel social pressure to apologize when someone really doesn’t deserve it, but don’t beat yourself up over a well-intentioned, “So sorry!”

Advice: Don’t state opinions as questions (ie “Wouldn’t it make sense if we…?”)
Why you can ignore it:

We’re often advised to state our opinions as confident statements so that others take us seriously. Yet, those whose opinions are flexible are seen as the best teammatesWhen someone shares an opinion as a question, we actually see the other person as open to influence and willing to work with us. 

Advice: Don’t get emotional at work
Why you can ignore it:

Cry in your car. Everyone does it.

Advice: Act confident, even if you don’t feel that way
Why you can ignore it:

Fake it til you make it works sometimes. Other times, the best way to regain control in an uncertain situation is to own your feelings. A candidate I once interviewed stumbled over her words and said, “Wow, I’m really nervous. What I meant was…” Here’s the thing — it made me like her MORE. At a networking event when I don’t know anyone, I have been known to sidle up to a circle and announce, “Hey, I’m going to awkwardly join this circle! What are we talking about?” 100% of the times I’ve tried this, it has worked. Owning your uncertainty can bring levity to a situation and cut tension.

Common professional advice errs on the side of directing us how to act, talk and feel based on what society currently values. In doing this, it perpetuates our professional status quo - urging us to act more alpha-masculine, whiter, and more educated if we want to succeed, and leaving no doubt about who is prized in the workplace. The next time you come across advice about how to act, talk or feel, regardless of whether it applies to you, think critically about whether there are potential advantages of doing the opposite (there might even be research on it!).

Remember, “faults” may, in fact, be strengths. Strengths that will help us build stronger relationships and work cultures more geared towards connection, authenticity, and a diversity of leadership styles.

Your turn: What other professional advice can we just stop worrying about?


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