Could you provide tips to not appear ‘meek’ in interviews and during your first days on the job? When I start a new job I’m usually quiet while I listen and gather information. I am called a sunny person because I smile and talk positively around everyone. So, the context is from other people that are going to be working with me, after 5 days on the job – observing me. My latest manager has reported this to me that the functional analysts are worried because I seem meek. I checked with a former boss and he thought so too at the beginning. So, I guess having been seen like this in several jobs – I don’t think that is the way I want to come across. How do you seem strong, capable and intelligent without being meek, or going the other way and seeming like a bulldozer?
I think I often act similarly in a new position and it is great that your latest manager took the opportunity to give this feedback…otherwise how would one know about how such laudable actions (taking time to understand before being understood, and cultivate a positive relationship with your stakeholders) are being perceived?
As I thought this one over, a story came to mind. In my director role I interviewed someone to take over the PMO for our organization. She had worked with our CIO previously, so her capabilities were known. After we had each met with her, our VP of Technology made an interesting point. He thought that as a leader of project managers, she seemed like she might be a pushover and he was wary about bringing her onto our team because she didn’t seem like she could stand up to the business. The CIO (who was anything but meek herself) reported that was one of her strong traits. She created the perception that she was acquiescent, but when circumstances dictated it, she held fast. So she built strong relationships without being confrontational and created a position of strength for her team.
Perhaps part of this story rings true to you? And you might wonder whether it’s worth changing this initial perception, and what position of strength might be sacrificed in the long run, if you did?
But perhaps some expectation setting is in order, and some small tweaks might help you. Another story comes to mind, but this might seem unrelated so please bear with me at first.
I’m a writer and a note-taker. If I’m in a meeting, I write notes. As I prepare for my CBAP, I’m practically rewriting the whole BABOK by hand. When I interview someone for a new position, I also take copious notes. It’s how I process information best, and when I was sometimes in meetings 5-6 hours per day, I needed to use every tool at my disposal to ensure I processed the information coming in.
But I noticed that my note-taking was sometimes having adverse impacts on job interviewees or in 1-1 meetings with staff. Even good candidates get nervous and I realized that my note-taking was sometimes causing them to hesitate and not fully engage in our conversation. So I started a new habit of explaining my note-taking at the beginning of an interview, and let my staff know about it too, just to be sure they understood that regardless of what I thought about what they were saying, I was going to take notes. I apologized if this was distracting and explained my way of processing information.
This seemed to help ease the tension a lot. This habit has filtered over to my consulting where if I’m in a meeting with new stakeholders, I just mention my note-taking habit up front and let them know to expect it. Typically in this situation, I also take the opportunity to cast it as a benefit, letting them know that I take a lot of notes so that I don’t have to come back to them repeatedly with the same questions.
How might this help you? Well, would it make sense to consider being up front about some of the ways you behave that make you be perceived as meek with your manager or other analysts, and provide them with alternate interpretations for these behaviors up front? Possibly let them know that you tend to be acquiescent as you build relationships with new stakeholders and that this has caused you to be perceived as meek in the past, but it really helps you in the long-run get done what needs doing. Perhaps by admitting this “flaw” in the beginning, you’ll be able to control the perception from those who really matter, avoid any negative short-term consequences, and also be able to do your job in the way that makes you successful?