It's Time To Start Sitting At Tables Where You Might Be Talked About When You Get Up

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a team gathered at a table

Do you know how to talk about yourself?

When you think of gossip, you tend to think of it as a negative thing or being made fun of. It brings you back to 8th grade when you were trying to figure out what table to sit at during lunch. It always felt like picking the lesser of two evils.

Option 1: Sit with nerds (who end up being CEOs). Or option 2: Sit with the people you know will talk about you as soon as you get up (who ended up peaking in high school).

(OK, fine, there’s a third option: Eating a bag of Combos in the art room while painting to Led Zeppelin. Not that I would know about that.)

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Everyone learns at an early age that being talked about is a bad thing. That what is being said will be 100% negative. So it’s better to keep your head down and go unnoticed.

So you go through your 20s doing just that. You work hard at your job. Harder than anyone else on the team, in fact.

You expect someone will notice (how could they not? You're doing their work for them!) and you'll get a pat on the back. Maybe even a raise!

And, then, neither of those things happen, because you don't know how to advocate for yourself. 

You can learn how to advocate for yourself at work.

The more spotlight you create in your career, the better your chances of getting promoted are.

You want people to know your name. You want them to know what you’ve contributed to the team. You want them to know what you have to offer.

How does one become their own PR person? 

As someone who coaches women who would rather do anything else than be in the spotlight, I recognize how excruciating attention can feel.

You feel like you're being set up to fail in front of everyone, like you can’t make a single misstep. Things have to go perfectly. And you discount the fact that humans are imperfect and there actually is no such thing as perfection.

You're doing the wrong math.

You have more influence over what people think about you than you think. This is your professional brand or reputation. Being your own PR person means that you intentionally carve out time during your work week to identify and talk openly about your accomplishments.

You prioritize your "PR time" as highly as other aspects of your career. You know you’re doing it right when you transition from spending 80% of your time on "non-promotable" tasks and more time on "promotable tasks." 

The main difference between non-promotable and promotable tasks is visibility.

Volunteering for a committee and volunteering to present at a conference are two very different volunteer gigs. One involves note-taking and the other involves a career-amplifying platform. 

Another way to be your own PR person is to step up to present at conferences.

Make sure your supervisor knows what your career goals are, amplify other people in your organization while asking them to amplify you, pitching yourself to industry podcasts, and having a professional bio ready for opportunities. 

You’re not in 8th grade anymore. You have a career in a world that rewards visibility. No one is going to make you visible on their own. You have to make yourself visible or ask for the help of others. 

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How do you get others to amplify and promote you?

Amplification and promotion are positive gossips about you. How do you get it to happen?

You ask people with more positional power to endorse you and you give them the language to make it super easy for them to do it. They are using their credibility to help you level up.

Where it gets challenging is if you struggle with asking people for help. 

But before you throw in the towel, know this: people are leveraging relationships all the time to get ahead.

In fact, Sally Helegesen and Marshall Goldsmith talked about "failing to enlist allies from day one" as one of the 12 behaviors that keep women stuck, in their book, "How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job."

While most women see themselves as great relationship builders, they believe that "using" those relationships to better their own position is self-serving.

What women can fail to see is that "...alliances and connections establish them as potential leaders."

Positive connections can build credibility.

But those connections aren’t mindreaders. So if you want them to enlist their help, you have to ask and make it so easy for them to do it, that they do it.

You do the heavy lifting — send them a concise blurb about who you are and what you have to offer the particular person or organization. Check in when they forget.

You’re not bothering them. You’re helping them help you. 

My husband, Colin, is also an entrepreneur and we would often find ourselves going to the same in-person networking events.

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Before we’d walk into the venue, we’d ask each other who it was that we wanted to connect with and what we wanted that person to know about us (like a program or project we were working on). And then we’d be each other’s amplifier.

We’d find our way to the person Colin wanted to meet (while eating cheese) and after I introduced myself, I’d put the emphasis on introducing Colin and sharing what it is that he wanted the person to remember. And Colin would do this for me.

We are amplification buddies. It’s an effective "brand building" strategy you can use, too. 

Another way to have potential amplifiers is to have someone recommend you as a speaker at an upcoming event, forward your resume to the hiring committee, give your testimonial or public comment for something you publish, and publicly recognize you at the next event.

These asks may seem uncomfortable at first, but this kind of endorsement is happening all of the time. And it can make the endorser look good! 

According to Leslie K. John’s HBR article about savvy self-promotion, "Research led by Cornell University’s Vanessa Bohns indicates that we tend to underestimate others’ willingness to help by about 50 [percent]. Benefits also accrue to the helper. Research on 'positive gossip' indicates that people are more highly regarded when they brag about others. That means, of course, that you, too, should praise the accomplishments of others; it’s kind, good for morale, and may prompt reciprocation."

When Leadership Coach, Tara Mohr, investigated why it was that women were less likely to apply for jobs when they didn’t have 100% of the qualifications and men applied when they had 60% or less, she found that it wasn’t due to a lack of self-confidence.

It was because women (and young girls) are taught to follow the rules.

I can’t tell you how many times I‘ve heard, "Why would I waste the recruiter’s time if I don’t have what they want?"

What Mohr (and I) have found is that women again fail to leverage connections and don’t recognize that they can shape and market their skills however they want to.

This is not disingenuous. It’s strategic. And it’s how boys and men are socialized. 

If you take anything from reading this, it’s this: I want you to be talked about. I want your career to have buzz because that’s how you’re going to have a bigger impact. The way to do that is to get past the discomfort of marketing yourself.

Your achievements will not speak for themselves. You speak for them, by learning how to advocate for yourself at work.

When you leave the table, I want those achievements to echo in your footsteps as you walk away. 

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Lindsey Lathrop is a certified coach, gender equity consultant, entrepreneur, and certified #IamRemarkable Google trainer. Connect with Lindsey on her website.