Q: I'd like to advance in my career but don't feel like people take me seriously. I've also received feedback that I am too casual and don't command respect. What should I do?
A: It may be time to assess your communication style and appearance so that your presence matches your aspirations.
The inner game
Have some fun with this — you have a chance to do some reinvention, refreshing your style while staying true to yourself. Set aside a little time, take some good deep breaths to relax, and get ready. If you find that you're anxious or resentful about the potential change, think through the reasons that you're concerned so that these feelings don't cause self-sabotage.
There are two areas to explore. One is your appearance. A lot of people don't update their look when their circumstances change. If this is the case for you, you may still look like a college student.
This includes clothing, hair, accessories and, if you use it, makeup. The great thing is that defining your new style is in your court, so you don't need to become "someone else."
The other area is your communication style. If you sound tentative, you'll be treated as though you don't know what you're talking about. Assess your demeanor and ask someone you trust to observe and give you feedback.
If you're not sure where to start, there are lots of good models to follow. Look around your office and learn what you like — and don't like. TV and movies also can give you ideas. The key is being open to change.
The outer game
When it comes to changing your look, you may well have some of what you need. You'll want to be strategic about obtaining the rest, especially if budget is a concern. The key is knowing what you want to buy and why.
Here are some ideas to help you move forward:
• Find a style-oriented friend or talk to a personal shopper at a department store to develop an approach (they're free).
• If retail prices are a challenge, hit consignment stores.
• For hair, ask for a consultation at a salon to get ideas of alternatives, keeping in mind maintenance and daily effort so that you get a match.
• Do the same for makeup — it's not necessary, but does send a message for some people.
And remember, it doesn't all have to happen at once!
For communication, identify some opportunities for improvement. If you have verbal mannerisms that undermine your authority, adopt a more firm tone of voice or confident phrasing. Own your ideas!
Consider your body language, too. If you tend to slump or appear withdrawn, people may question your engagement. Don't try to fix everything at once; select one area and spend a month or so focusing on improvement. Once that's securely under your belt, then move on to the next one.
For both areas, continue to get feedback from people around you and monitor your own performance. And remember to celebrate your successes.
The last word
You change and become more effective when you learn new skills; you can also change other aspects of yourself to achieve your goals.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.