One day it hits you. Why is no one suggesting you apply for the open position? Or, why isn’t your boss asking you to head up a new project or join a committee? At first, you brush it off, but you can’t seem to shake the suspicion that you’re not being taken seriously at work.
It doesn’t make sense. After all, you’re doing everything right. You show up to work on time and you do a good job. Around the office, you’re well-liked, and your coworkers regularly invite you out to lunch. Life is good! You feel like you’re on the right path…until you look around one day and realize you’re not.
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Maybe you’ve hit a plateau. Maybe you’re realizing that people have you pigeon-holed into a certain kind of work. Or maybe you find yourself ready for more responsibility; perhaps you’ve realized you might have a little more ambition in the tank than what you previously thought.
First, it’s important to identify how you want to be taken seriously. What would that look like to you? What is the outcome you’re looking for? If you want something intangible like “respect” you’ll need to how you’ll know if you receive it. Is it a tone of voice? Applause when you enter a room? A raise or promotion? Less micro-managing? More responsibility?
Once you’ve defined how “being taken seriously” would look to you, take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Career trajectories are weird. Take a look around and you’ll realize very few people have a linear path straight up the ladder of success. But if your gut is telling you to pay attention, there might be some things you need to adjust.
Here are 6 things to consider as you examine why you’re not taken seriously at work
#1 You lack presence
Have you ever noticed how some people enter a room and everyone pays attention while some folks enter a room and just kind of blend into their surroundings? This is called charisma, and it’s not about who’s the loudest. In fact, body language beats words when it comes to charisma. Our brains are wired for us to take some people more seriously than others. In The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, Olivia Fox Cabane identifies 4 kinds of charisma:
Focus Charisma gives people the feeling you are fully present with them (something Bill Gates was known for). You can develop Focus Charisma by concentrating on being truly present with people and listening well. Warning: not all types of charisma are useful in every situation. Cabane says to avoid using this kind of charisma when you need to appear authoritative.
Visionary Charisma makes others feel inspired (e.g. Steve Jobs). You develop Visionary Charisma by creating a message that communicates your strong convictions and eliminates uncertainty.
This kind of charisma makes people feel welcomed, embraced, and accepted (think Oprah or the Dalai Lama). We can develop Kindness Charisma as we practice self-compassion, gratitude, and patience. Kindness Charisma is helpful when you want to create an emotional bond.
This kind of charisma is about status and confidence. In my opinion, this is probably the kind of charisma you’re lacking if you’re not being taken seriously at work. It’s based on a perception of power and is determined by body language, appearance, title, and the reactions of others (e.g. Colin Powell).
To develop Authority Charisma, you can learn to take up more space with your posture and body language. You can learn to avoid fidgeting or excessive nodding. In your communication style, you exhibit Authority Charisma when you speak less and more slowly.
The second way to develop this kind of charisma is through dress. According to Cabane, “Choosing clothing that appears expensive or high-status is one of the easiest ways to look authoritative,” (which is why you often hear the advice “dress for the job you want”).
Just think about the respect that is commanded by someone with a title like “General,” “Doctor,” “Judge” when combined with a uniform. Hint: it’s not an accident.
The good news is that you can develop all of these kinds of charisma. Cabane’s book has lots of great exercises in overcoming obstacles and figuring out what kind of charisma works best in different situations.
#2 You’re not sharing your ideas
I was an English major who sat through many, many class discussions over poetry, plays, literature, and books. It was always so energizing for me to be surrounded by the ideas and viewpoints of my peers. For someone who enjoyed it as I did, you’d think I would have participated more. Instead, for the first 2-3 years of college, I was like a perpetually scared rabbit trying to cross the street when I had a piece of insight to share. Should I wait? Should I go? Will I look stupid? Or will someone hit me with a mack truck of intellect that will squish me flat?
A lot of this was my impostor syndrome creeping in, which is unfortunate because I now know that my reluctance to participate not only held me back, it also held the class back.
It took until halfway through my junior year for me to confidently contribute in class discussions, and what was MOST fascinating was the level of reciprocation and increased respect I received from my professors and fellow classmates. I was subsequently asked to tutor other students which lead to a coveted on-campus job in the school’s Learning Center.
Here is what I learned: people will let you fly under the radar if that’s what you really want. But people who are flying under the radar generally don’t get taken seriously.
This is probably obvious, but it bears repeating: people are not mind readers. If you’re not sharing your ideas no one is going to know about them. Your unique insight, feedback, reflections, ideas, beliefs, opinions, or dreams will never make an impact until you choose to release them into the wild. If you’re insecure, give them a test run with someone else one-on-one, but lean into the process of sharing your contributions.
#3 You’re sharing too much
For some people, you have the opposite problem- as soon as a thought enters your brain it’s coming out of your mouth. This is great when you’re brainstorming, but in most day-to-day work environments, there has to be a filtering process to cull out the golden nuggets from the lumps of coal.
This goes for oversharing personal information as well. Brene Brown, the well-known shame researcher, says that oversharing is more about manipulation than being authentic or appropriately vulnerable- it can be used to try to force or manufacture intimacy. She writes in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, “Oversharing is not vulnerability. In fact, it often results in disconnection, distrust, and disengagement.” And, I would add, it results in you not being taken seriously at work.
If we want to be taken seriously at work (or in life) we must cultivate good listening skills. As a former mediator, I can tell you with certainty that words are powerful, but the transformation you are hoping for will not happen until you are able to truly listen to others.
#4 You don’t know as much as you thought
I’ve seen this one a few times. Some people (and I’m sure I’ve been one of them on occasion) feel like they’re ready for more responsibility or want to have more input into decision-making and they don’t understand why no one is listening to them. Little do they know, once they leave the room their coworkers are rolling their eyes.
I don’t indulge (much) in generational bashing, but this is a common refrain among those who work with or supervise Millennials. However, I think we can all agree that the know-it-all approach isn’t a good look for anyone. Confidence is great, but sometimes the reason people aren’t taking you seriously is that they know better and your contributions aren’t as great as you think they are.
If no one is waiting with bated breath to hear what you have to say or jumping to enact your suggestions, it’s worth asking yourself if there’s something you’re not understanding. Befriend an older/more experienced coworker. Ask yourself, “What keeps my boss up at night?” Before you make a proposal, think of 3 possible objections and be prepared to respond intelligently. Commit to learning and fully understanding the issues, the company culture, and the problems faced in your context.
Keep in mind:
Humility will open more doors than arrogance ever will.Zig Ziglar
#5 You have Jim Halpert Syndrome
I used to be a big fan of The Office and all its lovable, quirky characters. Jim, for all his charm, spent more time messing with Dwight and flirting with Pam than he did selling paper. I hate to say it, but Jim was a pretty crappy paper salesman.
Maybe, like Jim (especially in the early seasons), you’re not totally invested in your job and don’t see it as a long-term career. That’s OK, we all have some of those jobs sprinkled throughout our journeys, but if you want to be taken seriously at work, you have to take your work seriously. Taking on the class clown (or office clown) role does not help your cause.
If you can’t find the “why” behind what you do or bring yourself to give your best effort, then do everyone a favor and move on. You have a better chance of being taken seriously at work when you care about what’s happening.
#6 You’re not taken seriously at work because you do not take YOURSELF seriously
But wait! I don’t want to be a jerk!
This is where it gets personal, at least for me and maybe for you. I will be the first to admit that I have a strong, negative reaction to people who take themselves too seriously. You know who I mean. For every Jim, there must be a Dwight or Angela. These are the people who can’t laugh at themselves or who are so uptight about the smallest things you can hardly stand to be around them.
I think many of us react so strongly against that kind of behavior we swing too far in the opposite direction.
So, we became adept in the art of brushing off and not caring- all in the name of “not taking ourselves too seriously.” But sometimes? This ability to minimize our wants and needs results in minimizing…well, ourselves.
It shows up as a refusal to do anything but aim low, play small, and stay safe. It shows up for all of us when we’re too chicken to negotiate a salary, too intimidated to speak truth to power, too willing to accept the status quo (even when it makes us miserable).
It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the downsides of refusing to take myself seriously. And really, if I’m being honest, maybe I’ve secretly been caring a little more than I’ve let on this whole time.
The bottom line is that if you’re not willing to take yourself seriously, why should anyone else?