When career consultant Emily Bennington started researching her upcoming book on women’s career success, Who Says It’s A Man’s World: The Girls Guide To Corporate Domination, she came across an interesting theme: If the choice is between being respected and being liked, it’s better to err on the side of respect. “Your reputation is everything,” Jan Fields, a 35-year business veteran and the former president of McDonald’s, told her.
Bennington says corporate reputations are typically formed from a series of successive questions: Who is she? Do I like her? Is she capable? And can she lead a team? “When you have respect, you have the ability to make people galvanize around an idea,” she says.
However, while performance may help drive a positive professional reputation, Bennington says it’s the small day-to-day mistakes that undermine it. She outlines the most common (and gender-neutral) ways people “royally screw up their reputations.”
“People make excuses in part because they see themselves as un-empowered,” says Bennington. For example: But no one told me… or I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have the file. She calls people who make excuses “work victims” because they don’t take responsibility for their success. “If you don’t have answers, ask questions,” she counsels. Otherwise, you spend so much time stewing over what you don’t have that you end up wasting time that could be spent finding the resources you need. After all, “part of being great is being resourceful,” she says.
An easy way to lose respect is to be that person who’s always late and needs reminders about upcoming deadlines, says Bennington. One of the best (and easiest) ways to project composure and control is to turn in assignments unprompted and on time. So why do people screw up such a basic reputation-builder? “Their perception is off,” says Bennington. When a worker perceives their circumstances as stacked against them, they react in ways that reinforce that perception rather than owning their own actions.
Don’t Prepare For Meetings
Meetings are the primary way people outside your immediate team are exposed to your demeanor and work. Yet Bennington says too often people prep for meetings at the last minute, making them appear disorganized and, well, less-than-brilliant. Part of it may stem from fear. “I had a Monday morning staff meeting with my boss, which I was constantly angsty about,” says Bennington. She would go into the meeting feeling constricted and expecting to fail. However, over-preparing for meetings not only helps you feel more comfortable, it makes you look better.
Be Too Tit-For-Tat
Bennington recalls one salaried sales representative who considered any work past 5 p.m. overtime that the company should make up for. Once, the rep planned to take a two-hour flight to a regional sales meeting, which would end her workday at 7 p.m. To compensate, she asked her boss if she could come in to work two hours late the next morning. “Not only did her manager flatly deny her request to come in late, but in that instance any leadership equity she had built with him was damaged,” says Bennington. She recommends taking a more holistic view of your work and what’s best for the team.
Bennington says many workers make the mistake of thinking not responding to an email means they have said “no” or communicated that they’re unavailable. Instead, it makes coworkers wonder if you received the message at all, if you’re waiting to make a decision or if you’re just avoiding them. “It’s rude,” she says. Even if the answer isn’t what they want to hear, she recommends showing the other person the respect of responding.
Make Self-Deprecating Jokes
While appropriate humor can help facilitate relationships and make you more successful at work, frequently making yourself the butt of a joke can do two things: First, you may gain the reputation of the office clown, meaning not a serious person and a distraction to serious work. Second, you affirm your faults in the eyes of others, showing that you don’t respect yourself. It’s one thing to know how to take a joke and another thing to make yourself a joke, says Bennington.
Underestimate The Details
Don’t forget the small stuff because lots of little mistakes add up over time. “You build your personal brand through everything you do, whether big actions or small decisions,” former McDonald’s executive Jan Fields told Bennington. “That brand will stay with you throughout your career.” Bennington says sometimes workers become so focused on future goals and advancement that they don’t put enough time and effort into their current job. “Worry about the work in front of you, and do it extremely well,” she advises. “Manage experiences with colleagues and clients moment by moment.”