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A Star in Stripes

Black & White Stripe
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Shirt: Emilio Pucci  / Jacket: Calvin Klein  / Stripe pencil skirt: J. Crew  / Shoes: Michael Kors  / MAB tote: Rebecca Minkoff

5 Little Things That Can Make a Big Impression

When it comes to succeeding in the workplace, sweat the small stuff.

What many don’t know – or know, but don’t care to consider – is that whether you’re interviewing for a job, aiming for a promotion, seeking funding for a new business, or pitching a client, there are small, seemingly insignificant things that can make a bigger impression than your real work.

In my career, I too was oblivious to what others noticed about me. Being bypassed for certain promotions, raises, and projects required me to take a hard, honest look at my actions, and where I was at fault for missing some advancement opportunities.

Here are five things I consider small, yet powerful in what others will use to develop their perception of you. And their perception, whether right or wrong, true or false, determines whether you get the job, promotion, funding, or contract of your dreams.

In other words, sometimes you must sweat the small stuff.

A smile

woman working drill
Image by Alfred T. Palmer via Flickr (Library of Congress).

I’ll admit, I wasn’t known as a smiley face at work. I was determined and focused to make it in the magazine business, and I wore those characteristics through a blank stare. But others perceived me as cold and intimidating. On more than one occasion after becoming close with a colleague, they would tell me how they loved me now but when they first met me, I scared them and they were afraid to approach me. One of the last things you want is for people to think you’re unapproachable. A warm, genuine smile goes a long way to making a positive impression. You don’t have to go around looking like The Joker, but use those face muscles when you greet others, when you begin a presentation, and other moments when a smile can endear you to others.

I think about the things that make me happy, like relaxing on a Caribbean island, and a smile can’t help but appear.

Doing a nice thing for a colleague

Image via SweetonVeg (Flickr).

You would be surprised at how a little kindness can turn you into someone’s biggest fan – and ally. I’m not talking about fake sincerity or lavishing coworkers with gifts, but rather a friendly gesture. Help your cubicle neighbor brainstorm a project, or take a teammate to lunch when they seem overwhelmed with a looming deadline.

If you see a colleague having a bad day, send a short email and let them know you feel their pain. Sometimes all we need is a little empathy.  

Being impeccable with your word

A must-read book: The Four Agreements

One of my favorite books is don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements.” The first Agreement is ‘be impeccable with your word,’ which asks for you to “avoid using the word to speak against yourself or gossip about others.” Do you realize how much power is in your word? We have the ability to help or harm others and ourselves with what we say. If you spend time entertaining colleagues with the latest office shenanigans, consider directing that negativity toward speaking positive about something they recently achieved instead. Rarely does Chatty Cathy get to the corner office.

Another impeccable word tip: Accept responsibility for your mistakes (don’t play the “blame game”), but also speak up on your positive attributes and offer solutions to rectify them.

Caring about your shoes

kate spade licorice pump
Kate Spade. Image via Nordstrom.

You may be mindful of your entire appearance, but pay extra attention to your shoes. People notice and make assumptions about you simply by what is covering your feet. How well you care for your shoes and their appropriateness are more important than price and brand names.

I cringe at the sight of a well-dressed woman in scuffed or dirty shoes – it gives the impression that she does not attend to details.

Being on time

who cares clock
This is how habitually late people see time. SMH.

What’s the saying? If you’re on time, you’re late? Or is it, if you’re five minutes early, you’re late? Either way, being on time is important – it is a real impression killer. When I worked in the fashion industry, my colleagues and I reveled in being “fashionably late.” The transgression would be quickly forgotten (or so we thought) if we entered looking good. But what we failed to understand is that by arriving late, we are saying many negative things to the person left waiting: I don’t respect your time, I don’t really want this job, this meeting is not important to me, or most hurtful, you’re not important to me. The easiest way to remedy this is to … be on time. If this is a problem for you, research be-on-time strategies and work those until you find a winner. After many times of being on the receiving end of habitually late people, and recognizing the anger it caused me, I decided to shape up my own tardiness. My mistake was always overestimating the time and distance of my destination. So I began adding in buffer time – so an 11:00 a.m. meeting became a 10:30 a.m. meeting. Now, I like people knowing that I respect and value their time as much as mine.

Regular, practiced tardiness is not just annoying and disrespectful, it’s costly. It can cost you key relationships, business, money, and your reputation.

Start now to practice mindfulness of the small stuff, and come back to share in the comments if and how your work life has changed for the better.

Happy Monday!