No one likes to feel like their opinions don’t matter.
As a woman who looks younger than my years, I often worry that people don’t think I am credible. This was especially true when I was younger. I always felt like I had something to prove—as if to make up for being a young woman in a male-dominated industry.
But my age and gender didn’t make me any less qualified to do the job. And it doesn’t make you any less qualified either. What makes you a serious player in your industry is an exceptional quality of work and an insightful contribution that is indispensable to your team.
However, it is also important to be mindful of how you come across. I’m not the only one who worries about being taken seriously at work. I have known plenty of successful people of all ages and genders who struggled at some point with feeling that the people around them didn’t really see them as serious peers.
This is especially true if you are new to your role. Here are a few good work habits that can help you boost your credibility.
Dress the part
Fair or not, those first impressions come chiefly from your appearance. So put your best self forward by taking a little care in how you dress. That said, you don’t need to splurge on designer brands or squeeze into a size-whatever. Just make sure you’re well groomed and put-together. A polished look conveys self-respect, which is crucial if you want others to respect you.
If you’re not sure how to dress, take a cue from leaders in your industry and try modeling your attire based on that. The most professionally appropriate clothes for you will depend on the culture and environment you work in.
Once you’ve settled into your uniform, don’t spend another moment thinking about how your clothes come across. Your appearance is an important detail, but it is far from everything. Your attire might give you a window of opportunity, but your quality work will open doors.
Have a confident voice
Unless you’re listening to your own voicemail greeting every day, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how you sound to other people.
One way many of us undercut our value is by speaking too quickly. Perhaps this is out of fear of being interrupted. But when we rapid-fire thoughts, our listeners don’t get enough time to digest the important bits.
To fix this, try taking a pause after each crucial point. Literally count in your head, “one…two…” and then speak again. Not only does this slow you down, but it emphasizes your message and makes you sound more credible because you are taking the space you need for your ideas.
Slowing down your speech also gives you a chance to catch yourself before making other vocal faux pas. When we speak quickly, we are more likely to over share. Does your supervisor really need to know that your most recent contribution was inspired by last night’s dream of time traveling aliens? Save those thoughts for happy hour with your best friend.
Another way you do yourself a disservice is by prefacing your statements. Disclaimers like:
- “You might disagree, but…”
- “In my opinion…”
- “I think…”
lose you credibility. They subtly tell your listener that you don’t have confidence in what you are about to say, so why should they? Instead of tempering your idea, state it confidently. You want to be someone who has the ultimate conviction in your beliefs.
Be an amazing writer
Your voice is just as important when you’re writing as it is when you’re speaking.
Whether you consider yourself a writer or not, being able to verbally articulate over email and social media will boost your credibility. Depending on your job, you may also be expected to write articles, publish blog posts, create training manuals, or write press releases. A sound understanding of grammar and sentence structure is absolutely crucial.
If you’re not 100% confident in your abilities, there are steps you can take to get better.
One of the best things you can do to become a better writer is just to read. Reading exposes you to new vocabularies and composition. Read for pleasure in your free time or try reading material relevant to what you’ll be writing, for inspiration.
If you plan to start a blog, search for other bloggers writing about the same topic. If you plan to market your product, check out material written by other copywriters. I like to subscribe to newsletters that consistently feature really great content. That way, I have a curated reading list in my inbox every week.
Once you’ve gotten a taste of what good writing looks like, the only way to become a better writer is to practice.
You would be surprised by how much you already write every day. Use each email, Facebook post, and Slack message as an opportunity to practice and critique your writing. If you’re writing to promote your brand, check page analytics to see which posts get the most likes and which articles get the most clicks. This will help you develop a writing style and voice that resonates with your followers. If you are writing mostly for co-workers, gage their responses to determine if your message is coming across clear.
Clear writing is especially important when you are sending tons of emails every day. Because the recipient of your email can’t rely on tone or facial cues, ambiguous writing can be easily misinterpreted. Make sure you are very considerate of what you write and where you share it. Once you press send or publish, nothing is private.
Finally, make sure your writing is concise. Readers today expect to-the-point messages. Limit your use of fancy words or industry jargon that might obscure your message; look for opportunities to cut content that doesn’t add value. Clear, succinct and convincing writing will differentiate you as a great thinker and a valuable asset to the team.
Know what’s going on in your industry
People are more likely to take you seriously if you can demonstrate expertise in your field. This takes some preparation. Having a deep knowledge of one subject area means you will need to ask lots of questions and dig for answers.
First ask yourself some questions. Where are there gaps in your knowledge? Are there changes happening in your industry? Can you articulate who your competitors are? Who your target market is? Why there is a need for your product or services?
The better you know your answers to these questions, the more knowledgeable and credible you will appear when speaking.
Having a wide range of interests is also valuable. Why? You can contribute a broad base of knowledge and ideas. Serious people have strong opinions. Keep up-to-date with pop culture, sports, science and technology so that you can make yours known (when appropriate).
Be smart about how you spend your time
Working efficiently is a great way to get others to take you seriously. And efficient people know to make the most out of their time. How can you do this? I start by time-blocking my schedule at the beginning of each week. Doing so allows me to identify my priorities and pencil them in my calendar. That way, I can schedule important tasks at a time when I can really focus—for me this is in the mornings.
Efficient people also know how to break a big project into pieces. This is especially important if you find that your day is often interrupted. By breaking down a large task into smaller, actionable items, you can still be productive in 15-30 minute intervals. Combine this with time blocking and you can achieve laser-focused results on a daily basis.
Being smart about how you spend your time means knowing what not to spend your time on. Truly efficient people are great at delegating tasks that don’t need their unique expertise.
If you manage a team, you have a number of people at your disposal that you presumably trust to do quality work. If you work solo, learn to automate parts of your process (like social media or email). This will save you hours of time so that you can focus on more complex assignments.
And if you really want to impress, use your free time to make personal strides. Have you always wanted to run a marathon? Learn to code? Volunteer at a non-profit? Grow your skills by doing something challenging (and fun!). People are more likely to take you seriously if you are actively doing something with your life.
Always deliver on your commitments
Stop telling people what you’re going to do. Instead, tell them what you already did. You want your ideas to be heard? Bring a prototype of your project to the next meeting along with some user feedback to demonstrate its potential. Actions speak louder than words. A good idea and some initiative will get you far.
Of course, you will also need to make sure you’re following up with other people and not just with yourself. Arrive to meetings early, prepared to take notes. Make sure you reply to emails promptly—even if it’s just to say, “I got your message, and I’m looking into the problem. I’ll send you an update as soon as I have more details.” Then, follow up as soon as possible. This show of respect and persistent communication will give others a reason to trust you.
The worst thing you can do is to develop a reputation for being flakey. If you lack follow-through, your most brilliant ideas will be met with a lot of skepticism.
Try setting up a goal-setting system. I like to outline my yearly, monthly and weekly goals in my Ink+Volt Planner. At the beginning of each week, I give myself some time to schedule appointments, projects and personal goals.
First, I go back to the previous week to see if there were any items I didn’t fully accomplish. Those get prioritized. I add new items to my schedule, breaking bigger projects into step-by-step action items. Then, I check my monthly goals to make sure I’m staying on track. Finally, I reflect on my yearly goals to make sure my smaller goals are moving me toward that larger impact. This method works well for me. Whichever system you choose, make sure to use it consistently in order to hold yourself accountable.
If something goes wrong, take responsibility and move on
You may be a superstar at work, but problems arise for everyone now and then. Instead of getting defensive or trying to make excuses, take responsibility for the problem, apologize if necessary, and move forward. Adopting this attitude will prevent the situation from escalating into personal territory and your energy is much more valuable when it is spent looking for solutions to the problem instead of lamenting it.
That said, accepting negative feedback graciously is tough. When you hear that someone doesn’t like your work or that you’ve made a mistake, it’s easy to get worked up fast. Give yourself a chance to think before you respond to negative feedback and try to stay open-minded—remember that this person might have a point!
Building personal accountability takes practice, but it can save time, money, and personal relationships. Not to mention, a thick skin can also boost your chances of a promotion.
Building a reputation as an honest and dependable team member will make you stand out as someone who has great leadership potential. And strong leaders get taken seriously.
Have you experienced moments when you felt as though you weren’t being taken seriously? How did you respond? What strategies helped you stand out as a major player?