I love a good old bit of advice – doling it out, totally unsolicited, and on occasion taking it.
If I could change one thing about the world, it would be to make everyone that little bit more confident and help people see their potential in life.
That’s why I love that there’s so much advice out there for careers, which form a very important part of our lives – whether you’re climbing a ladder or simply want enough money to enjoy yourself.
Social media has, unfortunately, reduced a lot of good advice down to buzz phrases and blanket statements – so here are a few that I think are a bit dodgy, and could use some clarifying.
Never say sorry.
Most of us, in Britain anyway, apologise too much. “What’s your name?” “Oh, sorry, it’s Olivia.” What?
In the workplace we all make unnecessary apologies. Often for asking someone to, you know, do their job. Sometimes it is helpful to replace phrases like “sorry to bother you” with “thanks in advance.”
But “stop saying sorry” is just one of the blanket rules that are doled out, especially to women, which simply don’t work. “Instead of sorry I’m late, say thanks for waiting,” advises a #girlboss graphic. No – if you’re late, apologise. You don’t need to be consumed with guilt. It won’t make you appear weak. If you genuinely mess up, “sorry” is a useful and important word.
Another phrase currently up for obliteration is “does that make sense?” Sometimes, this can indeed dampen down your point. It can sound apologetic and less confident. But sometimes, it affords those in the room the chance to ask a question. Language is important but banning words and phrases is counterproductive.
My alternative tip: say sorry when you really are sorry, say it once, and move on.
This is, in and of itself, correct. Boundaries are inherently good and, in the age of flexible working, it’s vital to put them in place and be consistent.
Healthy boundaries can look like being aware of your job description and avoiding having other tasks creep in over time, for which you are not compensated. It might look like not answering emails on the weekend.
Unhealthy boundaries can often look like laziness and a lack of flexibility. Nobody should expect you to stay late at work on a regular basis, but hanging up on a Zoom call mid-sentence because it’s “home time” is a bit too far (reader: this happened).
It should not be your responsibility to work on an understaffed team, but if someone is sick or some last-minute work comes in, saying “that’s not my problem” and leaving people in the lurch seems, to me, like a very toxic form of “self care”. We’re all human and sometimes people need support – I would just recommend noting who supports you in return, and not turning exceptions into habits.
My alternative tip: it’s fine to do the bare minimum, but you have to get comfortable with the idea that someone else might not, and that they might be rewarded.
Always listen to feedback.
Even though I am young enough to know everything, I still believe all feedback is useful – but this has definitely got me into trouble. The truth is, if you listened to everybody’s feedback about your product, your work or even your personality you’d run yourself ragged trying to chop and change to fit it all.
Try to be a filter, not a sponge. I still listen to feedback and take it on board, but before I put anything into action I take a couple of days to process the reasons behind the feedback – does the giver have the same goal as me? What were their emotions and motivations for giving it? I recently heard someone ask “are they an observer or a participant?” and found that very useful.
All feedback should be processed, but not all of it needs to be put into action. Most businesses – and indeed, people – have a specific target audience. It’s OK if someone isn’t yours.
My alternative tip: don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t go to for advice.
Always speak up! Provided you have something to say.
We’ve all been there. I’m very much a silence filler and a lot of my contributions come from a place of “well nobody else is putting their hand up”. But, add too much of nothing to a conversation and you’ll soon be found out.
You should never be afraid to speak up where you think an idea can add value – or when you have an important question. Most of the time, if you don’t understand something, someone else in the room doesn’t either – but they’re scared to ask.
I’ve been reflecting on confidence a lot recently, and how many of us think it means being the loudest one in the room, or the centre of every conversation. True confidence is being yourself, knowing you deserve to be in the room, listening to others, and being comfortable with silence.
My alternative tip: Save “speaking up” for when you have something to say. That way, people will look forward to your contributions.
Bonus tip from Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”