STARTING OUT


Get More Respect at Work

Erin Burt

How to get people to see past your age or gender and notice your merits.



Want to be taken seriously on the job? Respect is earned, not given. That goes doubly if you're fresh out of school, you look younger than you really are, you're starting a new position or you work in an office saturated in the opposite sex.

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Often co-workers base their first impressions on stereotypes -- from dumb blonde to young punk to Ivy League know-it-all. Disrespect at work is dished out in many forms. It can be flagrantly condescending (higher-ups calling you "kiddo") or more subtle (such as not taking your suggestions seriously or not giving you good projects to prove your mettle). Either way, it's belittling and hinders your move up the career ladder.

To get ahead, you need respect. Here are seven ways to get it, no matter your age, sex or position at work:

1. Ask for advice -- and accept criticism. You don't know everything, so don't act like it, or you'll erode your credibility.

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A great strategy for young adults is to get a mentor. Work your tail off on a project, take it to a higher-up and say, "before I give this to my boss, could you take a few minutes to look it over and give me any pointers." Return periodically for advice -- or to chew the fat. Developing a relationship of trust with a mentor can not only improve your quality of work, but also get you noticed by more power players as your mentor mentions you in other workplace conversations.

When you ask for feedback (or even when you don't), don't take criticism personally or it'll eat away at your confidence. Listen to the advice, don't repeat the mistake and move on.


2. Show leadership qualities. Be proactive, confident, secure and assertive. Erase the phrase "I think…" from your speech. If you've thought something out well, stand up for your idea and be prepared to back it up with reason or facts. Timidity in the workplace won't earn you respect. (See Conquer Your Fear of Rejection for more.)

Don't take your behavior too far the other way, though. There is a line between confidence and arrogance, assertiveness and aggressiveness.


3. Work hard. Are you the last one to show up and the first to leave? Do you spend a lot of time hanging out at the water cooler? Do you have a habit of surfing the Web or playing Solitaire on your computer? Using your time at work to actually work is a crucial step to show your boss you mean business.

But just showing up and going through the motions isn't enough. Try to learn everything you can on a particular topic by reading books or taking classes if necessary. Be the first one to volunteer for projects -- especially challenging ones that no one else wants. Never procrastinate. And when you interact with your boss or other higher-ups, make sure you know your facts, can back them up and ask intelligent questions. A job well done is the best way to showcase your merits.


4. Exceed expectations. Your job description is not set in stone. You should always be on the lookout for opportunities to shine outside your box. Going above and beyond your mundane tasks can demonstrate your untapped talents and show your boss you're not afraid to take initiative.

Volunteer to work on projects outside your responsibility (but only if it won't get in the way of your regular duties). If you settle into your job description for too long, you might be cast as a low-level lackey, not worthy of respect -- or promotion.


5. Keep things professional. Remember, you're at work, not a friend's house. That means you should dress appropriately, keep your language clean, avoid gossiping and don't share too much personal information with your co-workers.


6. Watch your unconscious behavior. Smiling or laughing too much, tilting your head when you speak, phrasing comments as questions, using the wrong tone of voice, failing to make eye contact -- all these habitual acts come across as childish or weak, says Lois Frankel, author of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, and apply to both women and men.

"Don't be fooled by the apparent simplicity of these mistakes," says Frankel. Few people make only one of them, and "when you combine several, it significantly contributes to the appearance of diminished competence."

And please eliminate the words "like" and "um" from your vernacular (um, this advice is, like, totally awesome).


7. Be dependable and responsible. These simple traits show up on nearly every survey about what employers want in an employee. And it's no surprise. They want employees who show up on time every day, take their job seriously and take responsibility for their actions. Consistently get your work done on time and you'll become known as the person the company can count on. How's that for respect?




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