Let me start by saying, the following story is not a humble-brag. It is a situation that happened this morning, inspiring this post.
“You look so put together all time time; it makes me sick!”
This statement, coming from a female coworker, surprised me, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because it was 8 a.m. and I’d yet to eat my breakfast or have a cup of tea. Or I thought to myself that if she’d looked closely, she would notice I had not a lick of makeup on my face (nerd-style glasses hide plenty of sins). More than likely, however, I was falling back on the tendency that many women embrace: deflect the compliment and offer a mincing aside to bring myself back down to “normal.” But instead of flicking off a remark about my naked face or that my cream blouse and pencil skirt were just something I threw on – even though it was the truth because I’m a lazy dresser – I said simply “Thank you!” and kept strutting down the hallway. Despite the blush in my cheeks, it felt good to just accept the compliment without excuses.
Much is written about women’s communication style in the office: our lack of assertiveness but if we’re too aggressive, heaven help us. How our up-talk makes us sound persistently uncertain and that we’re always apologizing for perceived slights (or just simply taking up space). While I’ve never been a shrinking violet, I found conforming ever so slightly to the behaviors of the office in the beginning of my career, a form of assimilation. Instead of making a declarative statement of opinion, I would lead with a preemptive clause to deflect any potential ruffled feathers. While it never reached the level of speech that constantly sounded like I was questioning myself and others, I could hear myself and I didn’t like it. So I stopped making excuses.
- I refused to be afraid of my own opinions. Solicited or not, if I knew that a thought would add value to a discussion, I offered it. I stopped being scared that I might be wrong in giving my two cents. And you know what? The world didn’t stop spinning. In fact, as I listened, reflected and made contributions, I stopped having to push my thoughts as people began to pull me in. I created my own value by showing I had some.
- When someone gave me a compliment, whether for physical or intellectual capital, I didn’t demur. How many times in the past week have you brushed off or downplayed a legitimately earned kudos? When you landed your company a key client, did you protest or did you accept the well-earned praise? If your hair or make up was on point, or you spent an extra minute coordinating your outfit, did you allow the admiration or did you point out your badly needed manicure?
- I encouraged others to do the same. Currently, my office is 90 percent women, various ages, backgrounds and experience. One of the most common personality traits they share: apologizing for “slights” like speaking up in meetings, not having printouts unexpectedly and other small matters that wouldn’t concern most people but especially not men. Jokingly, I’ve brought up the idea of an apology jar, similar to a swear jar. For every unnecessary apology, put in one quarter. No one has taken me up on it yet, but the principle behind it stands.
Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to exist – take up space, be imperfect, be wrong, learn the lesson and move along. And when someone gives you a compliment, you turn around and give them a high five.