How to Stand Out at Work
Most of us spend at least one third of our lives at work. And if your job bleeds way past the proverbial 40-hour workweek like mine did, then it’s more than half your waking hours.
And while you’re at work, the pressure to perform – and conform – can feel enormous. That means being serious, delivering on what’s demanded by the deadline, doing things the “right way” in order to please the boss or the client.
The Problem With Being Serious
For achievers, this can be a problem. We’re so willing to “do whatever it takes” and “focus on the work at hand” so that we can “deliver results” without getting distracted by seemingly irrelevant things. Like bringing our personality to the office and showing the personal touches that make us who we are.
But when you don’t show your true self in full Technicolor, ultimately you’re likely to languish in your career, top out too soon, and feel miserable about yourself. That’s what happens when you shut down parts of who you are at work.
And since work represents the majority of your waking hours, this can make you shrink as a person over time. It’s the beginning of letting work suck the life out of you.
But what if you could bring your whole self to work? Shine and show all your colors, and not just the ones that you perceive are appropriate?
The Benefits of Being Your Whole Self
In my experience, it’s essential to bring your whole self to work if you want to stand out and excel. First, because hiding parts of yourself takes energy – the kind that you want to be putting toward your mission and enjoying the process instead.
Second, because you’ll otherwise be indistinguishable in a sea of people who are also self-managing so much that they’re no longer distinctive and special.
When you do let your true colors shine through, it increases your sense of self-worth and satisfaction at work. It increases your ability to be seen and chosen for exciting new projects and opportunities. And that in turn helps you advance in your career.
It’s liberating to feel free to be your whole self. And this helps you enjoy what you’re doing as well as get great opportunities to learn, grow and contribute.
How Carla Stood Out
An example of this is my former colleague Carla Harris. In the early days, all we knew about Carla was that she worked hard and took her job seriously, just like the rest of us. Then, one December, our big boss somehow discovered that Carla was a singer and convinced her to sing at the office Christmas party.
After dinner, the big boss gathered us at one end of the restaurant and told us we were in for a treat. He asked Carla to step forward and invited her to “sing something, please”.
Then the most beautiful version of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” emerged full of rich, smooth tones that soothed, tantalized and transported us to another time and place. Carla’s personality and performance had us nearly in tears. It was magical, and we were mesmerized.
After that, we all saw Carla in a different light. Her talent and also her courage to get up and sing in front of 200 colleagues won her greater respect.
Showing another side of herself made us realize just how “cool” Carla is and that she’s far from just another corporate clone. Plus the fact that she had just recorded a CD (remember those pre-digital days?) and was booked to sing at Carnegie Hall caught the attention of senior management.
This made Carla stand out, and helped her gain support, respect and trust from all of us – seniors, colleagues and juniors alike.
How You Can Show Your Personality at Work
So the question is, what can you do to show a different side of you at work?
The good news is you don’t have to give a command vocal performance if that’s not your thing. It’s just as good to give subtle clues about who you are and what makes you you.
Here are a few ideas.
How You Dress
Your grooming and attire are great ways to show your personality and style.
According to stylist Jacqueline Allen, founder of Edit London, “Simply wearing black is so prevalent, especially in business, that it risks marking you as unmemorable, lacking confidence and even creativity. Colour, clothing quality, clever accessorising and good grooming are the key.
At a foundational level, men can really stand out by paying attention to their choice of shoes and how neatly their clothing fits. For women, wearing your best-suited colours will always help you stand out and mark you as confident.
Once you have the foundations in place, well-chosen accessories can punctuate your style to demonstrate personal flair, sophistication and personality, be it a pocket square, scarf, jewellery or beautiful eyewear.”
Your LinkedIn Profile
First, make sure you have one. Then make sure you put your photo on it. Maybe even sporting a splash of color alongside the usual black or navy suit.
And it will further differentiate you if your writeup is not the typical dry CV replacement. Instead, use language people can relate to and tell us why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what you’re passionate about (without necessarily using the word “passionate”).
When there’s an opportunity to show a different side of your personality or skillset, grab it and use it. Whether it’s a talent show, the Christmas spoof or company picnic, get involved and don’t stay on the sidelines. Create some memories of you having fun and being involved with your colleagues.
Speak Up in Meetings
You can show your personality by the way you do or don’t get involved in meetings. For example, what analogies do you bring into the conversation that help people “get” the point instantly? Or things you’ve read that add to the mix? And it could also be about the kinds of questions you ask, the things you demonstrate curiosity about.
This can show your playful side, and break the tension when your group is under pressure. And like any good performer, you can experiment with what variety of your fun side lands best with your colleagues.
Decorate Your Workspace
Whether you prefer a no-frills utilitarian approach or a warm welcoming feel, the way you arrange your workspace is also a way to express your personality.
What’s your screensaver – an image, a motivational quote, pictures of your family, an aspirational image? What books or magazines do you have on or around your desk – is it Harvard Business Review or Rolling Stone? Do you have photos of your family or of the remote Tibetan village where you do charity work?
How You Enter the Room
The way you walk through the office, your posture, whether or not you greet people (and how you do that) are all ways to show who you are.
I always admired my department head who greeted everyone he passed on the way to his office. He made everyone feel good, and the mood lifted whenever he came onto the trading floor.
How do you move through the office space – are you sweeping in with positive vibes, shuffling in quietly without anyone noticing, or something in between?
Share Your Non-Work Experiences
What you do when you’re off from work and the kinds of vacations you take are a great way to show your personality. Why not share the excitement of what you’ve experienced? And who knows, maybe you’ll inspire others to try out your adventure or create a special bond with others who have done the same thing.
What Will You Do?
Whether you go for bold or subtle, give yourself permission to show the other sides of yourself at work. You will feel more yourself. And this is part of the magic mix that makes people want to hang out with you. It’s likely to make you more approachable, and encourage others to speak with you and share their own hidden sides. All because you opened up first.
And when you do open up, make it joyful and positive. If you have pent up anger and feel like venting, leave it to one side. Not only will it fall flat, it won’t differentiate you from the 80% of people who are unhappy and disenfranchised at work.
Now, it’s over to you.
What will you do to show your full self at work and stand out?
Leave me a comment and let me know.
Thanks for the inspiration/advice! Note that your tweet prompts exceed 140 characters, so recommend you reduce to that threshold.
Thanks, May, for reacting quickly to my comment regarding “tweet-ability”. I confirm both twitter links work for me now.
Many thanks for bringing it to my attention, Craig, and for checking on it again. I appreciate your help!
I think it is great to be yourself. Your article, at essence, is what diversity is all about–though diversity is a topic often confused with other aims. Being yourself works best in companies where there is a good cultural fit with your value system, and other elements of who you are..
I agree, Udo. The company culture and how it fits with ones own values is key. Sometimes we forget that when deciding which jobs to take on!
Thank you for sharing those tips. I was not aware of how powerful opening up to others is when working in teams. This article has had an impact on me and I will make sure to be positive, greet everyone and share this post.
Thank you 🙂
That’s fabulous, Theo. I’m sure you will make a difference to those around you!
I love these tips – it’s the cumulative power of all employees’ contributions (in all forms) that make up a company’s culture – as opposed to letting the culture dictate who we are as employees and individuals.