There is never a "one size fits all" answer to how to get ahead in the workplace. It is often a process that involves assessing your coworkers and your boss so you can figure out when it is constructive to speak up, and when you should keep your head down and just keep trucking. Women, especially, should always be self-confident about their roles in the workplace and feel that they have every opportunity their coworkers have to get ahead. However, sometimes the best way to do that is by taking a step back and being low key about it.
In order to figure out the best times for this non-traditional "get ahead" method, we decided to talk to some of the most senior people at investment banks and asked them two things: what is an example of a time when you chose to be laid back about something in the workplace and it furthered your career? What is an example of a time that one of your employees was low key about something and you found that it rewarded them in the long run?
Here are the 10 times our experts say it will almost always pay off to be low key:
1. Whenever you're receiving feedback
Whether it's your formal year-end review from your boss or some casual, constructive criticism from a co-worker on your lunch break, it is NEVER a good idea to be anything besides laid back about feedback on your performance. Trying to explain yourself is just going to come across as defensive, so even if you think the critique isn't exactly accurate, just keep your mouth shut and take it in stride.
2. Whenever you get a new role or new job
Unless you are getting hired to come in as the new CEO of Apple, it is always a good idea to stay extra low key and extra humble when you are first starting out. Nobody likes when the new girl comes in and immediately thinks she's "one of the girls," you're going to have to earn your spot in the pecking order, even if you're coming in at a senior position.
3. Whenever you have conflict with another employee
Much like high school, there are going to be plenty of people at your workplace that you are forced to spend all day with even though you don't like them... at all. However, unlike high school, work is not a popularity contest, which means constantly complaining about the person who sits next to you and how they keep screwing up, it makes you sound like one of three things: a whiner, a gossip and/or a tattle tale. None of those things are the first pick to get promoted. Take the high road and let the crappy employee dig their own grave, they always will over time.
4. Whenever you're up for promotion
Every employee knows when it's promotion time, which means every manager is getting all sorts of people in their ear asking for the job. Once you have earned your keep it is totally okay to raise your hand when it comes to promotion time, but err on the side of being a little low key and let your work speak for itself. Often the squeakiest wheel doesn't always get the oil first, it's mostly just a pain in the ass.
5. Whenever you're working for somebody who's part of Gen Y
Gen Y are the millennials, the 20 and 30 year-olds who are about to become the largest portion of the workforce. This means that Gen X and the Baby Boomers (ages 35-64) are going to start nearing retirement. Gen X and the Baby Boomers tend to have a much more scrappy, aggressive management style, and would look for those attributes in those they wanted to promote. However, a study found that of members in the Gen Y, 88% prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one. It also found that 72% of the members of Gen Y would much rather be their own boss, but if they had to work for somebody else, 79% said they would rather have a coach or mentor relationship with their boss.
6. Whenever they need somebody to be a "team player"
Nobody is promoting anybody to be the perpetual doormat, but often at work there are times when somebody needs to fall on the sword. For instance, you know your coworker is going through a hard time at home and screwed up something on a spreadsheet, being laid back about taking part of the blame is a great way to do your coworker a solid (it doesn't hurt that they now owe you a favor) and your manager will often respect that you take the blame as you view yourself as part of a collaborative team.
7. Whenever your company is having a bad year
It's rare that any one industry is booming year after year, which means in bad years things like Christmas bonuses are going to be a disappointment. Understanding that your whole company is hurting and not whining about how bad things are (or how much your bonus sucks) shows that you not only have an understanding of the business, but that you are committed to the company through thick and thin. Those are attributes managers want in employees. Also, if you're getting a pay cut when things are rough, big chance your boss is too.
8. Whenever you do speak up, people actually listen
Ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? Well the person in your office that is constantly complaining about that other coworker/promotion /annoying client rarely actually gets heard. If you're the low key gal that only speaks up on these issues when they're really important then people are actually going to listen to you. Who doesn't like to be heard?
9. Whenever a client needs to vent, even if they're wrong
Whether you're a waitress, hairdresser or investment banker, a lot of the time you are in front of clients ALL DAY. Clients pay you for your services, and often listening is part of the deal. Sometimes clients are having a bad day and need to vent, even if that means misplacing some of that anger on you. Being laid back about a client wailing irrationally about something proves that you can compartmentalize your client's anger, which you know is not really directed at you, and still get the job done.
10. Whenever you don't take something personally
This is one of the things I hate to point out since I think it is a total misplaced stereotype on women, but studies show women are often perceived as high maintenance, emotional and/or passive-aggressive in the workplace. ANY time you have the opportunity to prove that you can be laid back about office politics, ranting clients, promotion season etc. and NOT take it personally it is always a great idea to seize it. In order to prove that we aren't manic go-getters jacked up on estrogen we have to go the extra mile to show how low key we really are, so if you see the chance, take it.
Published by Dagney Pruner