First Job: Test Market for Adulthood
Unfortunately, it’s clear that my first job was a test market for how to be an adult. Is that everyone’s experience or just mine?
My first gig was in a large law firm in NYC. From the very first day, I clearly stood out for being one of a handful of black people at the company. But instead of drawing attention to that, my colleagues chose to laser focus on the fact that I was (i) from the south, and (ii) that I was “so nice.” I was so grateful to not be experiencing any racism, and I leaned the eff into my southern identity.
I really enjoyed the early days of my first job. I felt like I could truly be myself and be accepted. I freely complimented everyone. I asked about people’s weekends and remembered things about their personal lives. I cheerfully said hello every morning. I made eye contact with folks.
I was 100% myself, and I carried the sunshine of the universe in my spirit for real for real. And I think I learned the hard way that being yourself may not be the best method for setting the tone of your reputation.
Learned to be Intentional About Being Nice At Work
Before the Being Black at Work police jump in and start yelling about how we should all be, work in and demand environments where we feel like we can be our 100% authentic selves, I’d like to say: I DON’T DISAGREE. What I am saying is that I think in some ways, it has proven more beneficial to me to be far more intentional about the narrative I’d like to set than to just be as I am and hope that is received the exact way that I intended.
True to her core Janelle is a v nice person. She puts everyone before herself (oftentimes to her detriment), and loves unconditionally. But the way the workplace is set up, ain’t nobody got to know that. In fact, it’s been my experience that it may be in your best interest that folks don’t know that…especially off the bat.
Ways to Craft the Nice at Work Narrative
Over the years (and especially after transitioning to a new job), I’ve learned that your reputation is EVERYTHING. A coveted reputation will take folks a lot further than good work product alone ever could.
The problem arises when your reputation does not match the narrative you want out there in the world. So, instead of sitting back and letting Work Becky write the narrative she feels is best, I say, take the power into your own hands and start teaching your colleagues what they gone think ’bout you, boo boo.
My reputation (for better or worse) will always contain some level of “nice.” Even when I actively try to combat it, the nice in me shines through with a vengeance. In order to combat that, I’ve used the following tactics, and they have truly changed the tone of my new working environment for the better.
Tips to Not Be So Nice at Work
Watch Your Emails
Don’t start emails with “Hi ____.” To this day, I have to actively catch myself on this one. It’s a very small change, but it definitely mitigates the “nice” tone from the jump.
Stop using the word “sorry” in your emails, in your office and in life generally TBH. Whenever I start to type the word out in an email, I literally hear that Beyonce song, “Sorrryyyy? I ain’t sorry!” playing in my head.
Let me say this for the new people in the audience: EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES AT WORK. Literally everyone. A lot of people make mistakes every. Freaking. Day. Unless you do something harmful with intent or you had prior knowledge that should have prevented you from making the error, you have no reason to be sorry for your mistakes – particularly in the law firm setting. The teaching method at firms is pure “throw you in and see how you float,” so you are bound to make a LOT of errors, especially in the beginning. Apologizing only brings more attention to the error. If someone corrects an error you’ve made and you feel strongly that you need to acknowledge that, try “Understood,” instead of the s-word.
In the same vein, stop using “Thanks!” These days, you’d be pretty hard pressed to find an exclamation point coming from any correspondence leaving my employer-provided email address. I’m not that grateful for asking you to do something in your job description, and you shouldn’t be either.
Stop Being so Available and Don’t Always Say “Yes”
You know how that partner or work coordinator seems to always call you on Friday nights with the assignments that are going to ruin your entire weekend plans (again), and you just feel like no one else is getting constantly hit with this crap?? Let me give you a little hint: no one else is.
Other peeps you work with are saying no. Confidently. They aren’t worried about being liked. They aren’t worried about the impact on their reputation. They aren’t worried about looking like a go-getter. They are worried about their own well-being (and birthday brunches and beer crawls).
At my old job, we had someone whose sole job was to make sure transactions were properly staffed. And that lady was STRESSED. She literally sounded like she was crying every time she called. One particular time, I remember she sounded more beside herself than normal, and when I accepted yet another weekend crushing deal, she said “Thanks Janelle. I can always count on you to say yes.”
WHAAAAAAAT?! You mean I had an option in this shit?! From that moment on, I decided I was going to start saying no rather than inappropriately overload my work burden, but it was almost too hard at that point to change a narrative that already existed.
In my new gig, I am VERY intentional about being upfront and realistic about my workload. If I’m too busy (or uninterested), I say no to the work, and people move on and keep looking. The world doesn’t end. I don’t get fired. And I maintain my peace, y’all.
When I started the new gig, I was very intentional to implement the above, and the narrative I enjoy in the office is very different from before. These strategies helped me tremendously, and I hope they prove just as beneficial to you.
If you enjoyed this post and you’re looking for more pointers on making your 9-5 life more of what you want, head over to the 9-5 Life section of my blogs for regular tips and tricks of making work work for you. Or! Leave me comment below and let me know how you tackle your work place narrative head on.