Don’t be a victim but play a smart brown noser
Even as an adult, being picked last—or not at all—still bites.
Just ask Megyn Kelly. NBC News’ splashy new face was conspicuously missing from the broadcast network’s coverage of the Las Vegas shootings— an absence duly noted by Page Six.
The former Fox News anchor wouldn’t be the only person to have been left out of a big project at work. Most of the time though, being passed on is not worth sweating over. “Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug,” says Debra Benton, a Colorado-based careers coach. “Occasionally, circumstances just cause you to be overlooked.”
Still, if you’re chronically being passed over for potentially career-making gigs, it might be time to have a conversation with your supervisor. But before you open your mouth, it’s key that you remain impassive—at least on the outside. “From an emotional intelligence perspective, you can’t [appear to] take it personally,” says Howard Fox, a Chicago management expert.
He acknowledges that it’s normal to feel humiliated, but resist the urge to vindictively strike out. “If you start to take it personally, you start to become the victim and blame others—which is exactly why others may not want you on a project in the first place,” Fox says.
Instead, ask for objective reasons why you weren’t asked to contribute so that you know the specific criteria for being chosen the next time. “Go to the manager and ask what you need in terms of skills and experience to get started on these projects, if not as a leader than at least to provide support,” says Fox. “You can tell your supervisor that the status quo is making you not feel like a valued member of the team, but ask what competencies you can develop to bring in the future.”
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You should also make it sound like you want your supervisor to be a part of your development in order to create a feeling of investment. “Ask what we can [collectively] do about” ensuring I can actively contribute, says Benton, adding that it’s important to look enthusiastic while doing so. “Say that you like juicy, tough assignments and make sure to keep asking.”
For new kids on the block like Kelly, it could also be worth your while to talk to colleagues assigned to the project and offer to help out. Indeed, there’s no harm taking the initiative instead of waiting to be assigned or passed over. As Fox points out, even if the manager isn’t in your corner, big projects often have different leads for specific parts. So be visible and let people beyond the lead know you have bandwidth to assist them and are more than happy to do so.
“If they’re all at the water cooler at 10 a.m., physically insert yourself at the water cooler at 10,” says Benton, co-author of “The Leadership Mind Switch.”
You might even consider little bribes as a way to get into those good graces—bring a donut or compliment them while simultaneously asking for advice. “Maybe say ‘you guys are the most creative in the organization, how do I get in?’” suggests Benton. “Take the initiative.”
And don’t worry that this might come across as brown-nosing . They’re professionally acceptable ways of endearing yourself to your colleagues. “If you’re new, your colleagues might not know, like or trust you yet,” says Fox. “Part of building that is reaching out and asking how you can support your colleagues” on their current tasks.
That said, if you persistently find yourself being shunted out of the way when there’s a juicy gig, it might be time to update your resume. “If after all else it’s not working, you should probably ask yourself if you should be there,” Fox says.
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