Fighting Fears: Fear of Coming Off as Arrogant

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One of the fears that many people have is the fear of coming off as arrogant. In particular, I refer to being able to talk about your achievements, experiences, skills and plans without coming off as arrogant. As a woman, I find it particularly hard to talk about my achievements unless I am at the interview setting. However, even then I often do not boast as much as I should because I assume that hiring pannel has read my resume and a cover letter (It is wrong. Most likely they glanced at the resume few minutes before the interview, and it was HR who reviewed the resume – never assume they read and remember it!). I did the same thing of not really talking about my achievements, experience, or even what I want to do/work on/achieve to my manager, assuming she could tell what I want her to see by the work I completed, my tone or my body language or any other signs. However, this is not the case!

If you are like me in this regard, I want to challenge you and urge you to change your perspective and be more open and honest about where you are coming from and what you want, and be able to communicate it to anyone you talk to. Think about people in leadership positions – they have no shame/barrier to talk about their expertise, things they want to do or achieve. Why should you?:)

Let me use my example to demonstrate what happens when you expect others to do the work and ‘read your mind’. So for 2 years I was working for this manager, where I did every task I was assigned to perfectly, with the hope that she would notice it and give me more responsibilities or make me permanent member of her team. When she did not, I started doing extra work than I was assigned – e.g. being proactive with things we could do or improve and then leading their execution, volunteering/getting involved in other events related to work, being always prepared to provide updates, memorising numbers, etc. However, my manager’s behaviour or approach towards me did not change.

Now that I look at it, I know there were at least 3 factors involved: First- she formulated her opinion of me and my strengths/weaknesses at the interview process, and every task or event that took place after that almost did not matter. Whatever I told her my skills were at the interview, and whatever I showed my skills were at the interview – it is all she thought of me.

The second factor was that I was not honest with her about things I wanted to do. For example, when the time came to assign someone to lead a project, she already had a person in mind, and it was not me. I took it personally, was upset for a while, because, unlike the person she picked for the job, I came to the meeting prepared, having thought about approach and having a plan in place that I tried to communicate. However, it was too late because she already made her mind in terms of who to give the work to (it did not work well – after 6 months of work the project was put on hold because of the wrong person selected for a job). It took about 6 months before I was able to overcome my resentment and tell her that I wanted to lead projects. After that, the roles she gave me have moved closer to my direction comparing to what it was before (I now lead 2 projects).

My point is – if you are struggling with your manager/director/boss to actually notice you and your skills, and all the great work/assignments/projects go to someone else, it may not be you or your fault (unless you have a good manager who pays attention and notices clues). A typical manager assigns tasks/roles not based on your skills, interests, contribution to the department, or wants, but only based on who is available at the moment and can do the work.

Lastly, the 3rd factor that I did not consider – my manager was a human, with her own priorities, problems and private life. She has 3 kids to worry about. She has no time/energy to figure out MY skills, experiences or wants. Which brings me to my point – make it easy for others – speak up about your experiences, skills and ambitions. Not many people (unless they are really good managers who take the time to asses all their staff and worry about their development) would actually spend time & energy decoding you. She would also respect you more if you are honest and direct about what you want.

Next time you have a fear of coming off as arrogant by concealing your experience or wants, think about the worst thing that can happen. What can happen if others think you are arrogant, and does it matter if the price for this will be moving forward with your career, getting pay increase and getting to work on things that excite you? I think it worth it:) To be honest, I became more open about my skills, expertise and wants very recently, but I love how it makes me feel. I would rather be myself than not taking opportunities to advance when they are right there and later blaming myself for not taking a chance and not speaking up for myself.

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