6 Qualities of People Who Are Confident But Not Cocky

February 12, 2018
confident not cocky

In a professional environment, it does little good to be a shrinking violet. When trying to grow and advance in your field, you want to put your best foot forward. You want your clients to trust you, you want your peers to respect you and, perhaps most importantly, you want to show your higher-ups why they hired you.

Whether it’s because you’re trying to overcompensate or you just want to be recognized for your achievements, it can be easy to bypass confidence and make a left turn into Smug Town. But being truly confident requires different qualities, ones that cocky people are simply lacking. Below are six traits exhibited by confident people that set them apart.

Confident but not cocky

1. They’re knowledgeable, but know that they don’t know everything.

Confident people are secure in their knowledge and abilities, but they accept their limitations.

Knowing that you don’t know everything is half the challenge of being a competent professional. People who are truly confident understand that their knowledge is limited.

On the other hand, cocky people are all about showing off what they know and tuning out anything else.

Confident people aren’t concerned with feigning the thin veneer of invincibility. They’re willing to share their strengths and their weaknesses. As a result, they are more likely to work collaboratively with others and be receptive to their colleagues’ thoughts, suggestions and constructive criticisms.

2. They welcome feedback.

Confident people welcome the feedback of others in their field. They listen. They engage. They know they don’t have to accept every piece of advice they receive, but they are appreciative of others’ insights and experiences.

Confident people are secure in their personal and professional identities because they are active participants in their own growth. They are constantly looking to sharpen their skillset, bolster their productivity and turn their weaknesses into strengths.

This means that confident people are comfortable with taking an honest look inward and taking stock of where they’ve been, where they are and where they’d like to go.

No one finds success in a vacuum and confident people know this. Because of this, confident people frequently gain a loyal tribe of positive mentors, trusted colleagues and other individuals whose counsel they trust.

Remember: no one wants to collaborate with a blowhard.

3. They lead from behind.

As leaders, confident people aren’t afraid to let those under their leadership shine. Whereas cocky people may cling fiercely to the front of the pack, showing off their status as frontrunner, confident people are okay letting others take the reins for a bit.

But don’t mistake this willingness to momentarily take a backseat as passivity or idleness. Confident leaders know there is value in letting others forge their own paths, build their strengths and make decisions for the team.

As opposed to the brash racket of a cocky figurehead, people secure in their role as leader lead with a cool confidence.

They aren’t threatened by the ambitions or talents of others. In fact, they thrive in the company of driven individuals and want to see them succeed. As a result, groups and organizations led by confident individuals are happier, more productive and more successful.

4. They give credit where it’s due — and they’re not afraid to share the spotlight.

Because confident people are secure in their identities, they aren’t afraid of being one-upped or overshadowed. Of course, being human, they want to see their efforts acknowledged and their hard work come to fruition.  However, they aren’t obsessed with their own success — and that’s what makes them successful.

If another person comes up with an amazing idea or proposal, confident people don’t put a negative spin on it. They aren’t idea killers. They aren’t worried that someone else’s success will take away from their own. They don’t dull others’ shine.

Rather, they know that there is more than enough shine to go around and that everyone’s lives will be brighter because of it.

5. They pick their battles.

Another difference between confident and cocky individuals is that confident people choose their battles wisely. Even the most casually confident person isn’t immune to getting annoyed or intimidated from time to time, particularly in the company of someone whose goal may be to elicit those exact feelings.

Still, confident people pick their battles. They don’t get riled at the first sign of trouble. They aren’t immediately reactive. They think before they speak. They remain calm and measured. They don’t throw their weight around in the pursuit of justice. Instead, they reach into their diplomatic toolbelt and utilize a frequently underused weapon — tact.

Confident people are thoughtful and careful. They don’t let pride get the best of them, and they understand that while we’re all sometimes inclined toward fits of ego, we don’t need to indulge it at every turn.

6. They’re stealthy.

Quietly confident people truly are the ninjas of the professional world. Because they don’t need the constant approval of others, they aren’t interested in broadcasting their every move. While cocky people are busy telling you how good they are and what they can do, a confident person will show up and just show you without showing off.

A version of this article originally appeared on Fairygodboss. You can view the original piece in its entirety here.

You might also enjoy How to Find a Great Mentor Early in Your Career and 5 Reasons Mothers are Workplace Rockstars.

Career Law

How to Spot the #1 Sign of a Hostile Work Environment

January 29, 2018
Hostile Work Environment

As a legal practitioner, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to clarify exactly what constitutes a hostile work environment. When it comes to employment discrimination, there are several laws intended to protect employees.

In addition to city and state laws, which vary in strength and scope, there are many federal laws that offer this protection as well; most notably Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

Courts have repeatedly opined that these laws are not general civility codes, meaning — no matter how unfortunate — the law does not protect against generally rude or undesirable behavior at work.

You can’t sue your boss just because he’s a jerk. No, the conduct that city, state and federal anti-discrimination laws protect against must be related to a class protected by those statutes.

In other words, the unwelcome conduct must target a protected class, most commonly: sex/gender, race, religion, age, disability, national origin, veteran status, domestic violence victim status and so forth. In some states, sexual orientation is also a protect class.

The term “hostile work environment” carries legal significance that goes beyond workplace unpleasantness or even general bullying. For a hostile work environment to exist, there must be an overarching protected class.

In other words, when an employee alleges they’ve been subjected to a hostile work environment, it must be related to — and a direct result of — a group that is protected by a state or federal statute.

One’s civil rights (and individual employment) must be threatened as part of the offensive conduct.

Hostile Work Environment

What isn’t a hostile work environment?

Before discussing the number one sign of a hostile work environment, it helps to discuss conduct that does not constitute a hostile work environment.

Cursing, casual joking, rudeness, petty slights, nitpicking, bossiness and unpleasant behavior, on its own, are not enough to bring a hostile work environment claim.

A supervisor or coworker who routinely antagonizes most or all employees in the workplace, regardless of who they are, will likely not be found to be creating a hostile work environment.

Why? Because the conduct is done indiscriminately, i.e. without regard for a protected class.

In fact, a common defense for employers in employment discrimination cases, particularly those involving managers or supervisors, is that the alleged bad actor did not engage in discrimination, but was simply a “stickler” or a “loose cannon” known for giving everyone a hard time.

An employer who routinely blows their lid, creates a threatening and intimidating work environment, and generally treats their employees poorly will be protected under the law if their conduct is deemed unrelated to a protected class.

This is a hard pill for many employees to swallow, particularly those who find themselves stuck in such volatile workplaces.

So, what constitutes a hostile work environment?

hostile work environment

As discussed above, a hostile work environment can only exist where the conduct allegedly targets a specific protected class or classes. For conduct and/or speech to rise to the level of a hostile work environment in these cases, the conduct must be intentional, severe or pervasive, and directly interfere with the employee’s ability to perform his or her job.

For workplace conduct to be deemed severe or pervasive, a court or investigating agency will utilize a “reasonable person” standard, asking whether a reasonable person would consider the alleged conduct to be intimidating, hostile or abusive.

Additionally, one-off occurrences of offensive behavior will generally not rise to the level of a hostile work environment.

The “stray remarks doctrine,” first set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, and expounded upon by courts since then, has routinely been relied on to dismiss employment discrimination claims.

Exactly what constitutes a stray remark warrants its own discussion, but the typical analysis reviews who made the remark — a decision maker or not; the nexus between the remark and the employment decision at issue; the ambiguity of the remark or whether it could reasonably be deemed discriminatory; and the temporal proximity between the remark and the adverse employment decision.

So, what’s the number one sign of a hostile work environment?

Intimidation – the #1 sign of a hostile work environment.

Hostile Work Environment

While the signs of a hostile work environment vary, the number one sign of a hostile work environment, universal in all cases, is intimidation. Intimidation is the one factor unique to all hostile work environments and it takes many forms.

Bad actors may threaten discrimination victims, warning them not to report their conduct.

They may threaten an employee’s bonuses, income or job security.

They may turn other coworkers against the employee, essentially making them a workplace pariah with nowhere to turn.

But the intimidation can also be less explicit.

Even in instances where there is no express prohibition on complaining, victims are frequently intimidated to come forward and report the discrimination they’ve suffered.

They fear retaliation. They fear for their jobs. In extreme cases, they even fear for their lives.

The conduct they’ve endured may be so rampant throughout the workplace, they may worry just how far the harassment will extend and will feel they have nowhere to turn.

In some circumstances, particularly where the workplace is a municipality, government or law enforcement agency, an employee may truly feel they have no options since they’ve seen the dark side of unbridled authority and know firsthand that the checks and balances intended to stop unlawful behavior sometimes fail.

But even beyond those workplaces, intimidation and the fear it creates is a common thread. This is the very essence of employment discrimination.

Employees need their jobs, and the last thing they want to do is risk losing them.

In some situations, employees fear ever being able to work in their field again and worry their victim status or label as a “complainer” will follow them to other workplaces.

The fear to speak up and assert your rights is common, but so too is the threat of reprisal when an employee does come forward.

Though there are laws in place to protect against retaliation for exercising the rights granted by anti-discrimination laws, instances of retaliation are still common, and even where it is not, the fear of retaliation is strong.

Further, asserting your rights requires courage and the ability to navigate the legal system.

Many times, bad actors are betting on the fact that victims may not be up to the challenge of working with a hostile work environment attorney and bringing a legal claim.

If you believe you may be working in a hostile work environment, once all the legal boxes have been checked, trust your instincts.

If you feel too intimidated to speak up and exercise your rights, or if you have come forward to your employer with your concerns and you still feel the looming threat of retaliation or continued harassment, you may in fact be working in a hostile workplace.

A version of this article originally appeared on Fairygodboss. The full version can be viewed here.

Disclaimer: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Always contact an attorney directly if you are in need of legal advice.

If you found this post beneficial, you might also like 7 Signs it’s Time to Ditch Your Toxic Employer.


Career Working Parent

7 Signs it’s Time to Ditch Your Toxic Employer

January 9, 2018
ditch employer

Have you been feeling like maybe it’s time to ditch your toxic employer and take back control of your career?

As a workplace civil rights attorney, I’ve had the privilege of working with scores of employees from a variety of backgrounds and workplaces. Sometimes these people have become clients and sometimes they have not.

Whether I meet with someone for a one-time consultation or work with a client for years, there are common threads found across all dysfunctional work environments.

This is true regardless of whether you work in healthcare, education, social work, law enforcement, hospitality, the legal profession, or a different area entirely.

To be clear, there is a difference between a hostile work environment as defined under the law and a generally “toxic workplace.”

In this article for Fairygodboss, I discussed how to spot the signs you work in an unlawful hostile work environment. I explained what does and does not legally constitute a hostile work environment.

I’ve also written about how to spot unlawful discrimination at work.

When a workplace is permeated by unlawful discrimination and harassment, it is, by extension, a toxic workplace, whether or not it legally constitutes a hostile work environment.

However, not every toxic workplace will feature conduct that breaks the law.

Nevertheless, working in a toxic environment can still be stressful, unpleasant, and bad for your well-being.

Below are seven signs that you may be working in such a workplace, and that it may be time to ditch your toxic employer once and for all.

toxic employer

1. They don’t respect you.

toxic workplace

We all deserve respect in the workplace. If your employer doesn’t respect you, your time, or your contributions, or permits an environment where others are allowed to engage in a pattern of disrespect, it may be time to move on.

Determining whether you are receiving the respect you deserve is a subjective endeavor, but here are some obvious signs your employer does not value you:

  • Your employer regularly allows a select few to steal credit for the work of others.
  • Your employer uses harmful, bias-riddled language, indicating they hold certain workers in higher esteem than others.
  • Your employer treats you as though they don’t trust you.
  • Your employer engages with you in a volatile, unprofessional manner.
  • Your employer harps on alleged weaknesses without ever praising strengths.

No one expects a workday to be a day at the fair, but if your employer appears hell-bent on keeping you at a certain “level,” they probably are.

2. They break wage and hour laws.

toxic employer

Another sign it’s time to go: your employer routinely breaks wage and hour laws.

This might not seem like a big deal, and sometimes you may not even realize you’re being shortchanged, but you should never tolerate working for an employer that does not fairly pay its workers.

Since wage and hour laws vary by state and federal law and contain many legal nuances and complexities, I’m not going to delve into an extensive analysis on the issue.

However, these are some ways to tell that your employer is not paying you fairly:

  • Your employer regularly asks you to complete work “off the books.”
  • Your employer requires you, an hourly worker, to work beyond your scheduled hours but refuses to document these hours.
  • Your employer unjustly withholds commissions if you work by commission.
  • Your employer does not post required information about wage and hour regulations in the workplace.

There are heavy penalties that can be levied against employers found guilty of breaking wage and hour laws.

If you believe your employer is violating these laws, you should consult with a labor attorney in your state.

However, even if you choose not to engage legally, know that these violations are a sign that it may be time to find a new employer.

3. They make you feel guilty for being a working parent.

toxic employer

If your employer makes you feel guilty for being a working parent, it may be time to hit the road.

Not only that, but they could be engaging in conduct that constitutes unlawful discrimination–for example, based on pregnancy or family status.

Nevertheless, even if your employer’s conduct does not cross over into discrimination territory, conduct that disparages workers because of parental obligations is harmful, antiquated, and bad for business.

Take it as a sign that it may be time to move on.

4. HR is ineffective.

toxic employer

A business or organization is only as healthy as its Human Resources Department.

As this Forbes piece states, “each employee’s life cycle begins and ends in the HR department.”

“Human resources professionals are the protectors of the company culture and the purveyors of the corporate conscious.” [Forbes].

HR has a duty to thoroughly investigate the employee complaints that come its way.

It’s a weighty responsibility, and thankfully there are many good HR professionals out there who take their jobs seriously and do an admirable job of balancing their obligations to both workers and the employer.

However, there are others who fail in this regard. Frequently, this has as much to do with a workplace’s culture as it does with an HR rep’s professional abilities.

That being said, a work environment where HR fails is a work environment where toxicity thrives.

Keep that in mind when deciding whether it’s time to move to a different employer.

5. There is a high turnover rate.

toxic employer

Another sign it’s time to leave? Everyone else leaves–constantly.

It is never a good sign when an employer can’t retain its workforce.

It is much more expensive for an employer to hire new talent than to retain its current pool.

If they can’t get anyone to stick around, it may be a sign of deeper problems within the organization.

6. They engage in discriminatory employment practices.

toxic employer

If you think your employer may be engaging in unlawful discrimination, this article I wrote for Fairygodboss may help you.

In it, I share the various signs that point to unlawful workplace discrimination, including, but not limited to: questionable hiring practices, biased language, unfair promotions or assignment of work, unequal pay, assumptions regarding an employee’s plans or abilities, disparate enforcement of policies, and retaliation.

If your employer is engaging in workplace discrimination, or if you have reason to believe they are, you might take it as a sign that they’re not the right employer for you.

Do remember that the onus is not on you as a worker to leave though. Rather, it’s on the employer to stop its unlawful practices.

I’ve known many victims of workplace discrimination who chose to stick it out with an employer for one reason or another.

Whether because of length of service, pension options, fringe benefits, job security, passion for the work performed, or some other reason entirely, choosing to stay with an employer is a personal choice. 

You don’t have to leave, but, like any relationship, it is your choice to do so if it’s not right for you.

7. Your gut is telling you to go.

toxic employer

The final sign it may be time to ditch your toxic employer? Your gut is telling you to go.

I know it is hard. For the most part, people need their jobs, and it’s not like new positions just fall from the sky.

It takes time to build a reputation and a career, and upending that overnight is not a choice most would willingly undertake.

But, if you’re in a bad place, you might want to consider doing so.

Only you will know what’s right for you.

Disclaimer: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Always contact an attorney directly if you are in need of legal advice.

Advice Career Monday Motivation

How to Find a Great Mentor Early in Your Career

October 30, 2017

There is a lot of advice out there about mentorship and mentors, namely, how to find one who is the right fit for you.

There are many schools of thought. Some argue that you should never outright ask someone, particularly a stranger, to be your mentor, while others support asking under the right circumstances.

I’m of the opinion that a mentor can come from anywhere, and if it means reaching out to a stranger whose work you admire, then go forth and ask.

Still, whether reaching out to someone you know or a complete stranger, I believe there are certain guidelines you should follow to to maximize your chances for success. Below are eight of them.

1. Network on your own terms.

One of the most important things you can do to find a potential mentor who would be a good fit is to network on your own terms. By this I mean, if happy hours aren’t your thing, or if you’re a parent who has to immediately rush to daycare after leaving the office, then don’t think of weeknight happy hours as being your only option to network with other professionals.

Look for other opportunities to connect, either formal or informal. If there is a morning or afternoon event, try making that instead. Sometimes professional associations host weekend events, which can also be a great opportunity to connect with someone you might have otherwise missed.

Also, don’t limit yourself to formal gatherings. If there’s a person or group of people you’re really interested in meeting then reach out directly to them and try to set something up. Don’t rely on the obvious paths–forge your own.

2. Learn about your community. 

Make an effort to learn about the community in which you practice or work.

For example, if you’re an attorney, most state and local bar associations have newsletters or bulletins they issue on a monthly or quarterly basis. They’re filled with stories and accolades about new and experienced attorneys, events, and initiatives.

Reading these publications is a good way to get a sense of your professional community and those who practice in it. You may take a particular interest in someone’s work or career trajectory, and if you do, reach out to them and let them know you appreciate their work.

Even if they don’t become a mentor, you’ll at least have made a new professional acquaintance.

3. Establish genuine connections.

A true mentor-mentee relationship is never forced, so always strive to establish genuine connections with people. Don’t try to force a relationship with someone because you think they’re important and would be good for your career.

Similarly, don’t dismiss someone because you think their position is unimportant.

Treat everyone with respect and don’t try to change your values to match those of the person with whom you’re hoping to connect.

4. Put yourself in their shoes.

If you’re interested in connecting with someone you view as a potential mentor, be sure to put yourself in their shoes when reaching out to them. If they’re a working parent, don’t suggest meeting for dinner at 6:30 P.M. on a Friday.

On the other hand, if they suggest that time, and it also works for you, then go ahead and meet with them then.

If the person works in a busy practice downtown and you’re located 20 minutes away in the suburbs, when making plans, don’t expect them to come to you in the first instance.

Also, when scheduling plans, don’t wax on about how busy your schedule is when trying to find a time that works. We’re all busy professionals, and it’s very likely that your potential mentor has an even fuller calendar than you.

You’re hoping this person will bring value to your life, so put yourself in their shoes, and try to make it easier for them to connect with you. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Bring value to the relationship.

A mentoring relationship is a two-way street. Often times, the mentor is someone who is older, wiser, and has spent many more years in the field. You may see them in a warm, guiding light, but don’t treat them like they’re a parent and you’re an overgrown teenager.

When you meet for a meal, don’t expect them to pay. If they offer, which is common, you can still offer to pay your way, but accept if they insist–you don’t want to turn a nice lunch into a tug-of-war over the check. You can volunteer to cover the next one.

Similarly, don’t consistently take anything without giving back–advice, assistance, gratitude. You may be early in your career, but you still have value to contribute.

Always be willing to share and bring value to your mentor’s life.

6. Know your goals.

What do you want out of the relationship? Don’t expect your mentor to steer your course. Be prepared with concrete goals and ideas for what exactly it is you need.

Similarly, if possible, know your mentor’s background and values. If their values don’t match your own, they might not be able to help you in exactly the way you’re hoping.

Of course, don’t completely disregard them because of this, but realize they may not be the right fit as your mentor.

7. Trust your instincts.

Sometimes you just know a person would be a good fit for you as a mentor. You’ve seen them countless times, have interacted with them, admire them, and just know that they are the inspirational leader you need in your life.

If there’s someone like this with whom you’ve established a connection, and who has taken an interest in your life and career, trust your instincts. There are a few great mentors I’ve had in my life who have come about just this way, and I still tremendously value those relationships.

8. Don’t be afraid to get rejected.

Finally, don’t be afraid to get rejected. When you’re reaching out to someone new, there’s always a chance that they won’t be interested in meeting with you. Similarly, there may be someone you’ve already met who just isn’t interested in getting to know you any better.

Or, maybe you’ve already started a mentoring relationship with someone, and have begun to realize it isn’t a good fit. That’s OK. Don’t be afraid to get rejected. You’ll have a lot of wins in your life, but they won’t come without losses.

Rejection will help you grow as a professional and ultimately will help you find the right mentor for you.