Tedx Talk – For the Quiet Minority at Work
Our Founder and CEO, Jessica Chen, recently gave a Tedx talk titled, For the Quiet Minority at Work, where she talked about her experience being a quiet minority in the workplace. She recounted some of her struggles while trying to reconcile her eastern cultural upbringing with the western working world.
For some of us, being a quiet minority at work may feel isolating. According to a recent study, minorities make up around 22% of the workforce in the United States. This number is expected to grow as companies understand the value diversity adds to their business. But for the minorities, living and working in this “world of dualities” can cause what Jessica calls, communication friction. Below, you’ll learn what living in a world of dualities means and three ways to leverage an eastern cultural upbringing so it becomes our working capital.
World Of Dualities
During the Tedx talk, Jessica explained how communications friction can arise because, as a minority, we are living in a world of dualities. For example, our upbringing focused on harmony, humility, respect and working hard. We were told not to boast or share our true opinions with those older. Perhaps, we were even told to put our head down and do the work quietly. While these may have worked in the confines of home, these traditional cultural influences may not set us up for success in the working world today. In fact, it can even prevent us from being seen and being heard by the right people because the truth is, in the western working world, people tend to hear those who speak up and are visible.
So, how can we overcome this world of dualities and avoid communications friction? We must learn to build credibility, advocate for ourselves, and say no with tact.
1. Build Credibility
Building credibility is critical in today’s working world. However, credibility is fragile. Once broken, it can be hard to earn back. This is why we will want to regularly work on building credibility. There are several ways we can do this.
Consider the following:
- Explain The Process – To build credibility, we must explain the process. This means taking the time to show and share what we are doing and why. For example, if our manager asks us for an update on a specific project, we can give more context instead of just saying it’s completed. We can say, “We finalized the last round of drafts on Monday. The client approved version three. I sent version three to compliance, and they gave minor notes. Those notes were sent to the client, and we got approval on Thursday. All assets are completed and have been sent to the printers. The client will receive the assets next Tuesday.” When we explain the process, we are showing our manager the steps we’ve taken and that we’re a tremendous asset to the team.
- Loop people In – Keeping our head down and hoping we get seen doesn’t work. in the working world. People are often too busy with their own projects to notice the work we’re doing. Because of this, we will want to ensure we are looping people in proactively. For example, if another department asks us to work on a project because they love our work, make sure our direct supervisor is aware of it too. Don’t just do the work alone and quietly. Looping in our supervisor has two advantages: it helps them see how valuable we are because others want to work with us, and it will give them a heads up that our plate is likely full.
- Do Good Work – If we want to build credibility, we have to do good work. That goes without saying, but more specifically, we have to do what we say. For example, if we tell our manager we will have a report done by Friday, we need to make sure we get the report done by then. Expectations must meet the reality when thinking about building credibility. Don’t accept a deadline we can’t complete. If for some reason we find ourselves with the possibility of missing that deadline, looping others in the process (like the point above!) can ensure our credibility stays in tact.
2. Advocating for Ourselves
Advocating for ourselves can feel difficult. This is especially true if we come from an eastern cultural background where we were told to put our head down and not boast. However, to achieve career success in the western working world, we must get comfortable advocating for ourselves to get the recognition we deserve.
Consider the following:
- Strong Case – When advocating for ourselves, we will want to build a strong case. This means answering questions we think others will ask. For example, if we want to ask for a raise, we will need to think about why we are asking for a raise. Is our timing good? Has the company posted record profits? Or is this a time where the business is tightening? If we want to build a strong case, we need to answer the tough questions ahead of time so we can speak with confidence.
- Align Objectives – To advocate for ourselves effectively, we will need to align our objectives with what other person cares about. For example, let’s say you want to ask for a coffee bar in the break room. However, just asking our manager for it may get an initial no because of costs. However, if we align our objectives with the business and say it could save people time because people won’t need to make a trip to the coffee shop in the morning, or that having coffee available in the office can boost that mid-day slump, we are now aligning objectives that go beyond our own interest. Aligning objectives will help us get what we want and it is a form of advocating for ourselves.
- Me to We – Another strategy when advocating for ourselves is to change our language from a “me to we”. When we do this, we are acknowledging other people and showing we are a team player. For example, instead of saying, “I increased production by 13% this year.” We could say, “Our team did a great job this year, and together we increased production by 13%.” When we change our speaking from me to we, we express what we want with others in mind first. That’s a great way to gain other people’s ears.
As a quiet minority at work, advocating for ourselves may be challenging. However, we have to learn how to be our own best cheerleader while doing it with tact.
3. Saying No
At some point during our career, we will need to say no. We may be asked to do something which we have no time for. Or the task doesn’t help advance our career. No matter the situation, learning how to say no is a skill that is important to practice.
Consider the following:
- Suggest An Alternative – We may not be used to saying no in the workplace, however suggesting an alternative option can help us feel more comfortable rejecting others. For example, we can say, “I can’t help you with the project, but I know Mary was hoping to get in on the next project. Perhaps you can ask her.” Or let’s say we can help with one part of the project, but not the other. We can say, “I can’t help with the design, but I am happy to help with the presentation.” When suggesting an alternative, we are showing we are committed to being a team player while respecting our boundaries.
- Express Understanding – When we say no, we must express understanding. This means acknowledging the other person and what they want us to do too. For example, we can say, “I understand you need help with the accounting reports, and I wish I could take it on, but I have to finish these marketing mockups by Friday. I hope you can understand.” By acknowledge their need for help and briefly explaining why we can’t help, we are showing we hear them.
- Tone – When saying no at work, we will want to be mindful of our tone of voice. This is because we will want our intention to match the impact of our message. For example, when we say no, keep an even tone. We don’t want people to interpret our no as snarky or that we’re dismissive.
Being a minority in the workplace can be challenging. However, we can leverage an eastern approach in a western workplace so it becomes a powerful form of capital. It’s all about how we show up and engage with tact. Leveling-up our communication skills is one of the most strategic ways to engage with impact. Watch the full Tedx talk here.
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