Why your lifestyle can be affecting your credibility at work
‘Nobody ever takes me seriously’ complained Rachel*. ‘I’m as qualified as they are and I’m doing a good job with clients but they treat me like the office junior. I’m really fed up with it.
‘Why don’t they take you seriously?’
‘Because I’m a girl and the youngest person there. They’re all just sexist old farts.’
‘Well, Sally’s only a couple of years older than you. Do they take her seriously?’
‘Yes, but she’s different.’
‘I don’t know, she just is.’
I decided to park Rachel’s unflattering description of her colleagues for now and instead asked her to tell me more about Sally, how she behaves, what she says and the image she projects at work. Gradually we started to unpick why Sally is different from Rachel and why people take her seriously. Here’s the first thing Rachel identified:
‘She never crawls in to work, late, complaining about her hangovers.’
‘Sometimes.’ Rachel paused. ‘Most weeks, to be honest. I need to stop that. I need to keep my personal life to myself.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I talk a lot about what’s going at home, my boyfriend, my flatmates and what I’ve been doing with my friends.’
‘Why is that a problem?’
‘I do it too much.’ Rachel paused again. ‘It looks like I care more about what’s happening outside work. And nobody at work needs to know that I had a row with Jason, or drank too much on Saturday. It’s none of their business. It makes me look bad. I need to focus on work stuff at work and leave what’s happening at home behind me when I get to the office’
‘It sounds like you don’t always behave appropriately then’.
‘I had never thought of it like that, I was just having a laugh. But laughs at work and laughs outside are different. You can enjoy your job, but having a laugh with your colleagues isn’t the same as what you do and say when you’re having a laugh with your friends. I had never thought of that before. It’s no wonder they don’t take me seriously. They think I’m a party animal who lives in a soap opera.’ Rachel slumped back in her chair, her hands over her face. I gave her a minute or two to reflect. When she was ready I resumed the coaching session.
‘OK, so it sounds like you’re blurring the boundaries between home and work a bit too much. Is that fair?’
‘Definitely. I forget where I am sometimes. I need to think more about what’s appropriate. Sally never talks about her social life. Ever. If she’s out with people from work she doesn’t get drunk, or gossip, or rehash things the next day. She has a good time, she’s a good laugh, but she doesn’t bring it in to work. That’s one of the things I’m doing wrong. I feel really embarrassed. I think I need to change a lot.’
It’s easy to blame others for not taking you seriously but, as always, you need to look at yourself and your own behaviour first. In your 20’s you often socialise with colleagues and that can make it hard to adopt a more professional persona when you’re back in the office. It can also be difficult to identify and maintain clear boundaries between your social life and your work life and, as with Rachel, lack of boundaries may be one of the things that undermine your credibility.
We’ll look at more factors that influence how seriously you will be taken in my next blog. You may alos want to look at recent blogs on becoming a manager: newly-promoted-and-its-all-got-weird-heres-some-help and developing your confidence as a leader: modesty-and-confidence. In the meantime, if you recognise yourself in Rachel and want to clarify your own boundaries click on the link below for a free coaching session, on me.
* All names have been changed. This story has been told with the permission of ‘Rachel’.