Legal Practice

Quirky or Unprofessional: Spend Your Capital at Work Wisely

I recently read a comment online about a young woman who was new to her job and doing really well, but had been getting looks from people because she was taking notes on her arms. She realized she was using up social capital at work by doing that and decided to opt for a notebook to look a little more professional. As I was reading this I kept thinking–what are some ways we use up social capital at work that hinder us?

I’m defining social capital as the goodwill people have towards you at work. You want to accumulate enough of it so that people take you seriously, are willing to work with you, pitch in when you need help, and advance opportunities and new responsibilities your way. Social capital is earned via your behavior and helps grow your executive presence. This is all very business jargon-y, which I find annoying, but the truth is that the more people take you seriously and trust that you can do a good job, the better your career will be–that seems simple enough.

Except, we’re not robots! We all have quirks and behaviors that can be off-putting or odd to others. Writing notes on your hand may not be a big deal to one boss, but to another it could raise eyebrows. And how it impacts your career prospects depends on how much social capital you’ve earned with the one that raises their eyebrows. The main stumbles young professionals face is acting out in ways that are driven by nerves that make you seem immature and unprepared: writing on your arms, skipping down the hall (yes, I have seen this at work!), giggling as a defense mechanism, responding in slang in professional emails, rambling, etc. etc. I could go on and on–and I don’t list these things like I’ve never done them (omg, but no to the skipping!). But we should be cognizant of our own behaviors and how it’s impacting the perception people have of us because it can be detrimental to our career.

I know that some of this seems small, like who cares if you constantly talk about pop culture? But you should remember that until you’ve been somewhere for at least two years, you’re an unknown quality and people will be hesitant to trust you with tasks when they think you don’t know how to act right.

Maybe you recognize yourself in some of these examples (except the skipping right?!) does that mean you need to change?

No se. Are people giving you a pass on behavior that makes them question your skills/talent? Are you ok with using your social capital on that? If not, would it be better if you showcased a more professional side to these people? If yes, then maybe it’s time to consider ways to improve your behavior at work.

Here is my example–I am a fast talker. I have always spoken fast and I adore other fast talkers. But it was a constant remark I received when I would do presentations. It annoyed me to no end because I understand fast talkers just fine. Like obviously the problem is with you, right? But the more I thought about it the more I realized that 1) it didn’t help anyone if people really couldn’t understand me; 2) I would receive less and less invites to do presentations, which was counter to my professional goals; and 3) there was a chance people were assuming the pace in which I spoke was due to nerves, which undermined me. I made the decision to work on my pace and changed what was an inherent part of me to make things better for me at work.

And what if you don’t want to change? That’s completely on you, boo. I changed my pace because I thought it would help me, but other quirky things–like the really odd art I put up in my office, I kept. There has to be a balance because, again, we’re not robots. In the end, there are some quirks you will be ok with keeping, some that you will have to work hard to change, and some that you may eventually outgrow as you gain more confidence, but the sooner you are aware of your own behaviors and how they impact your career the more control you’ll have on your advancement.



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