I once worked with some who took every opportunity to undermine me. Sure, some people think that in a situation like this the only way to get ahead is to fight for so-called supremacy—but I took the counterintuitive tack: I started asking his advice on things and even asking him to critique my work. This was far better than a battle. On the surface, I looked weak, but my play paved the way for a great relationship between the two of us—and also made me look like management material: I was the one person who could work with the impossible employee. Don't let your pride get in the way of what you're trying to achieve—whether that's just to get the job done and done well...or to get ahead. (Sometimes the same thing.)
Pitfall #5: You Think Acting Is Just for Emma Stone
If you're the type of person who is terrified at office parties, do what I used to do: Walk straight (and purposefully—head and shoulders up!) to the bar. Not only will you snag that dry martini, but—the important thing—you'll seem like you belong and that you know what you're doing. Acting like you know what you're doing is the first step in doing it. It may sound ridiculous, but pretending to be the person you want to be can lead to becoming that person. Richard Nixon did it. So did the devil in Prada. Dress the part you want to play and act the way that person would. (Without being a jerk, of course.) It's old advice, I know. But at one company, I kept getting passed over for a promotion to an executive position. So I went out and invested money in nice clothes and wore those clothes and behaved every day as if I really were the executive. People tend to take each other at face value, so what is your face value?
Pitfall #6: You've Overlooked the One Invisible (but Crucial) Thing
Once, I was hiring for a position and two people were neck and neck for the job. If one of them had sent, in addition to a thank-you note, a simple follow-up email with ideas—or even a little extra enthusiasm ("I would love to work here!")—he would have gotten the job. This idea doesn't apply solely to applicants—the way to get ahead, or even keep your position, is to overdeliver, even in seemingly small ways. A year ago, I asked an employee for some examples of a project we had been producing for several years. She put the whole thing in a neatly labeled leather folder and annotated each item with its date, its name and its significance. Did she need to do this? No. Did it make my job easier? Yes. Did it give me a pleasurable break in an otherwise trying day? Yes again. In fact, I have never forgotten it.
J.I. Baker is the author of The Empty Glass (Blue Rider Press) and Executive Editor at Condé Nast Traveler magazine.
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