After my first year at my first professional marketing job, I felt in control, wise beyond my years, like I was paving the way for an unprecedentedly successful rookie year. When I sat down at my first annual review, I radiated pride and enthusiasm. I expected my manager to tell me I blew through the criteria and exceeded all expectations.
Instead, I was met with the kind of calm and deliberate voice used to explain things to a small child. My performance for the year had been adequate, however, co-workers and clients found me inaccessible, cold, or intimidating at work. While many of the ideas and innovations I presented to the group seemed like they could hook, my colleagues supported them reluctantly at best because I did not work well with the team. Most of them found it intimidating to ask me questions or present changes to me as I rebuffed them. I need to clarify that I believe I am a bit of a cream puff.
While I took my career seriously that first year, I never considered myself a ballbuster or particularly tough in any way. I completed my work ably and on time. I supported my colleagues to the best of my abilities. I considered myself the ultimate team player.
My jaw literally dropped open, like a cartoon character, and I fell speechless in front of my manager. I told him I didn’t know how to fix this perception, because I felt like my co-workers were my family and that I would do anything to make business run smoothly. I did not want to be branded cold or unapproachable. In a work environment that relied heavily on collaboration to elevate creativity being shutoff from the herd meant death. My manager, still one of the best supervisors of my life, told me to take a week to evaluate my interactions with people.
While I never raised my voice in anger or willfully manhandled anyone, I did notice that I often avoided more casual conversation. When running into people in the hall I averted my eyes or gave a half-hearted smile. I never asked questions, preferring instead to quietly research and fix problems on my own. I rarely said goodbye, and even avoided many of the team bonding moments like birthday cake in the breakroom or ping pong tournaments in the lobby.
I thought that my actions proved that I was a diligent, self-sufficient, focused employee, but instead I inadvertently built walls between my co-workers and I. Resolved to do better in all areas, I quickly set in a plan of action to earn the brand of ultimate team player legitimately.
How To Be More Accessible At Work
I started by asking more questions. While I originally thought this would make me seem an incompetent nuisance to my co-workers, I found that asking smart questions allowed my colleagues to demonstrate their knowledge and worked as an easy ice breaker to developing more collaborative relationships. Two heads are in fact better than one, and I found that my productivity increased by just getting up from my desk and asking when I needed help. Far from making me seem vulnerable like I originally anticipated, asking questions helped establish me as a part of the team and made others more confident to come ask me for help or advice when appropriate.
Increase Social Visibility
I also increased my social visibility among my peers. Instead of waving them off to the bar while I plugged away into the weekend spending another late night at my desk, I allowed myself to shut down my computer and take discussion outside of the office. Whether discussing work or the latest baseball scores, taking time to relax with my co-workers helped us relax around each other and the easy communication of happy hour transitioned to more fluidity when it came time to get down to business in the office.
I got better about remembering to celebrate birthdays – I even bought thoughtful gifts or cards for my co-workers. Luckily the Internet has my back! You can find so many different gifts that have quick delivery online, gifts can be things like chocolate covered strawberries to a fruit basket that can be delivered to the office (or to my dad when I nearly forgot Father’s Day…). I also occasionally order a tray of sweets to keep by my desk to invite people to come snack and talk – it works!
Sometimes people do not perceive us the way we perceive ourselves. While I thought I was doing everything just right, it turned out I needed to fine tune my habits to present a more open and accessible version of myself. Sometimes personal branding is a simple as remembering to look up from your screen and say, “Hello!”
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