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How to decline requests for professional help

professional meet up for a coffee

One answer: be empathetic.

It’s a privilege to have someone reach out to you in a professional capacity for advice, guidance or to share ideas. It shows that you’ve proven you’re an expert in something. They think they can learn something from you. Enjoy the feeling. Let it get to your head if you want but don’t let it end there.

LinkedIn message

No need to treat people like they’re a bother. In the photo above, my friend reached out to someone twice and that was the person’s response. A few weeks after the first message. If you’ve seen the message and know you’re going to have the decline to meet up, for example, don’t wait two weeks to send your reply. It’s unfair and unnecessary.

He wasn’t about to ask for a mentor as such. It was more of an idea sharing session that he wanted. That response would have been fine if it, say, went on to offer the name of someone else who might have been able to help my friend or asked him to write to her again in X number of months when she may be less busy. My friend made it clear exactly what he wanted to discuss with her but in a case where you’re unsure what someone wants to professionally meet up for, don’t be afraid to ask them to explain or specify. Let them know that should you manage to meet or mentor them, it will help you prepare useful answers for their questions. You can then use their reply to decide whether you want to accept their invitation.

One thing you mustn’t do in these circumstances is to say an outright no and leave someone with nothing but a shutdown. For a lot of people, it takes courage to reach out like this. At the very least, close off the message with some encouraging words and no, “all the best with your entrepreneurial activities” is not good enough.

Oh, and if it’s someone of the opposite sex reaching out to you on a site like LinkedIn as it was in this case, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the message is anything but professional. There are people who use LinkedIn as a dating site but I’m sure the majority of people are there to make career connections.

While this person owes my friend nothing, I still find it very disappointing. What do you think?

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How to be taken seriously at work

Despite what some people may say, being a woman in the corporate world can be challenging. I could tell you some horror stories of colleagues and friends being treated in the most outrageous ways in the workplace. They were usually left wondering what they might have done or said to make people think they were easy targets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for people to think they can disregard anyone but it’s important to handle it especially well in the workplace.

As I said in a previous post, I’ve moved around quite a bit. This means that I’ve had the opportunity to observe the way that women – including myself – are viewed in the various places I’ve worked in. I’ve learned a few lessons about how to attempt to be taken seriously.

Things you should avoid
  • Sucking up. To some extent, asserting yourself at work can look like sucking up but there’s a big difference. While this may get into the good books of a certain kind of boss, the more emotionally intelligent individual may well be put off by it. Some of your colleagues, even if they’re amused by it, will also probably find you annoying because of it. Even if they’re doing it too. It can be very easy to see when someone is being false to get in their boss’s good books.
  • Mixing business with pleasure. Certainly it’s important for team building to get to know your colleagues on a bit more than a superficial level. Yet, you have to draw a line! Don’t get drunk with your colleagues if you can help it and absolutely don’t go sleeping with anyone you know you’ll have to see at the desk next to you at 9am tomorrow morning! Unless you’re already married to them…
  • Saying yes to everything. People will respect you more if you’re able to respectfully but firmly decline tasks that mean you overbook yourself. It’s all part of time management and prioritisation. As much as it feels good to agree to help everyone with everything, it’s also unrealistic. Also, be willing to ask for help when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Excessive displays of emotion. Okay so this is very subjective. I’m a bit cautious with this one because I’m against anyone stifling their feelings. I’m especially against women stifling their emotions for any reason. Perhaps the key is rather to be careful with how you communicate your emotions.
  • Gossiping. It’s so easy to get drawn into this. Especially if you like a bit of chin wag or are genuinely chatting with people in small groups in an effort to figure out the dynamics of a new job or team. It helps to keep in mind that if they’ll gossip with you, they’ll gossip about you! If you have issues with anyone, take it up with them directly and privately.

Things you should do

  • Speak up about inappropriate behaviour towards you. If you are certain it is inappropriate. Use your common sense and be discerning but don’t be afraid to let people know if you don’t appreciate some attitudes or actions towards you. Stand up for yourself.
  • Please don’t be that chatterbox at work who goes on about each and every thought that enters your head. Honestly, I’ve found such people entertaining at work but not everyone does. You’ll gain more respect if you speak more when you have something valuable to say. Watch what you say and who you’re saying it to.
  • Be quick to take up any opportunities for employee development. It shows your possible dedication to the organisation and makes you a valuable employee as you’re constantly building on your skillset.
  • Look professional. Even on a dress down day, don’t go to work looking like you just got out of bed.
  • Find a mentor. Look for someone who’s at thee level that you want to get to and figure out how they got there. Better yet, get them to teach you how.

Do you have any additional tips? Or have you had any experience with not being taken seriously at work? What happened and what steps did you take to change things?