There is a lot of advice out there on how to overcome challenges and setbacks, but many people—especially women—also stumble when faced with successes. As noted by Caroline Ceniza-Levine, many accomplished women are hesitant to speak up about their accomplishments and speak self-deprecatingly, often for fear of being perceived as too aggressive. Your successes need to be lifted up and given a chance to shine but, at the very least, they need solid ground to stand on; when we undermine our accomplishments, it’s like making them stand on quicksand or digging a hole right under their feet.
Case in point using me as an example:
I am currently working on a project with multiple moving parts. The project supervisor has been doing the work for years and knows most of the tasks by heart. In completing one of the tasks, I made a note that some information that appeared to be required was missing from the application. Later, at the end of a group meeting, the project supervisor said that he had reviewed my note and that I was wrong – that the information was not required. I followed up after the meeting and requested to talk it through with him. It turned out I had discovered the way we were requesting information left a gap in how to collect that knowledge – and that the knowledge was, in fact, required. This led to some quick follow-up with his supervisor and strategizing on how to address the issue in the short term and fix it in the long term.
To his credit, the project supervisor later came by my desk and thanked me for pressing him on the issue. Rather than just saying thank you, I found (to my horror) that I kept minimizing the accomplishment, noting that I probably caught the error because I am relatively new to the project and had to review the instructions holistically rather than just focus on the part specific to the area where I found the error. In the end, it was a positive moment, but to truly shine I wish I had fully followed these tips:
3 Ways To Make Sure Your Successes Are Fully Recognized at Work
1. Accept that “Thank you” is a complete sentence.
If someone offers you a compliment, especially if it’s well-deserved, it’s OK to say “Thank you” and stop there. If that’s too hard, you’re welcome to embellish with a bit of “I appreciate your compliment/feedback”. Adding more often comes from a need to demonstrate humility but usually leads to undermining your accomplishment (e.g., “It was nothing” or, in my example, “I only found the problem because I’m new and didn’t really know the rules”). Even a solid answer like “it was a team effort” undermines your particular contribution. Don’t take credit away from others, but also, keep the credit paid directly to you. So when in doubt, make “Thank you” your complete sentence.
2. See your difference as a strength.
While it’s true that my relative newness to the team meant I wasn’t as familiar with the instructions, it also opened the path for me to connect different parts of the document and discover the error. Being different, whether it’s due to your time on a team or more fundamental characteristics like your age, race, or background, can be an asset; diversity of perspectives makes for better products and outcomes. So take whatever is unique about you and use that as leverage to stand out.
3. Speak up and stand up.
Do this in order to gain respect and to support what you believe to be right, especially when your points are backed by solid data or facts. In the scenario presented, if I hadn’t pushed and just accepted that I was “wrong”, the error wouldn’t have been identified. At the same time, you need to think about your approach and how you help others to save face, when faced with an error. I could’ve decided to go toe-to-toe with the project supervisor at the end of my meeting, but approaching him one-on-one in his office and walking through why I thought this was an issue shifted the focus to the logic of my comment, versus creating a power struggle.
Successes need a solid foundation to stand on, so we need to stop digging holes, ladies. Now that you’re on solid ground? Find people who can help you build your confidence tower and then let your accomplishments shine from on high!
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