Forget Being Polite At Work—Be Predictable!

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of taking a driving course (so many hours of drudgery), you may have heard the phrase, “Don’t be polite! Be predictable!” The idea is that when you’re driving, your goal is not to be nice to other drivers, pedestrians, or bikers. The goal is to behave in a way that everyone around you will predict so that they can act accordingly. It’s a simple dictum to keep folks safe—those in the car, and those on foot.

But it’s more than just great advice for the road. It’s also great advice for your career.

Consider the following scenario: Your manager really likes you. You’re trustworthy, hardworking, and dependable. As a result, she often comes to you with new projects. She always asks you, “Hey, I got an opportunity to work on Project Santa Business, and I thought it might be fun for you. Are you interested?” And because you’re a team player, you say yes.

But you’re not interested. Project Santa Business sounds very boring. You’d much rather be working on Project Elf Business—but nobody has asked you to participate in that.

You need to consider that nobody asked you to participate because nobody knows for sure what you’re interested in. You’ve been polite—taking every request that comes your way. But nobody can predict what you’ll like because you haven’t trained them to do so.

why you should be predictable not polite at work

Display Your Personal Brand for All to See

Right now, there’s a huge movement in HR to encourage employees to expand and promote their personal brands. To keep employees engaged and prevent turnover, HR teams are leaning into the idea of creating brilliant employee experiences—creating environments and cultures that great talent want to be part of. In doing so, they’re asking employees critical questions: What kind of work do you enjoy? What are you good at? What do you want to learn? What projects get you out of bed in the morning? In other words, they want to understand your brand: who you are, how you feel, how you make others feel, and what you bring to the company.

At thriving companies, HR teams and line managers have nailed this down. They know how to ask the right questions and how to recognize what makes you tick. But at less savvy companies or with more junior managers, people are still figuring this out. They don’t necessarily know how to determine what kind of work you really want to do.

So it’s up to you to tell them.

Use One on One Meetings to Your Advantage

When it comes to building your personal brand, you have several options. First, use your one on one meetings to voice your passions. Tell your manager (and anyone who will listen!) that you’re really interested in elf culture, and that if you can be useful to Project Elf, you’d love to be on that team. You can even be clear about projects you don’t enjoy so much. If you have a good manager, she’ll hesitate to put you on projects you hate. It’s always a good idea to make your preferences known. It’s possible that you’ll still end up working on projects that don’t float your boat, but the chances go way up when you don’t say anything.

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Fill Out Your Profiles Everywhere

Depending on what HR software your company uses, you may have the option of completing an employee profile. Usually, the profile will have fields asking you to describe your interests and skills. If you are so lucky—go to town on this! And you don’t have to restrict yourself to your top skills. Let’s say you want the opportunity to do more video editing work. You might include “Video editing (Beginner to Intermediate level)” in your profile. Even if this doesn’t bring work your way, it may bring training your way. I had a client tell me that once she added her less-skilled interests to her profile, other teams informed her of trainings that were available to her at no or low cost.

Lastly, don’t forget to update your profile on any apps or social media your team uses: if you have a work profile (whether on Slack, Twitter, Pidgin, whatever) fill it out. Make known what you like to work on. Help people predict what new projects to put you on.

While it’s true that saying yes and being polite will earn you the “Team player” title, it may not help you advance in your career on your terms. You may not find yourself on the trajectory that brings the most joy. Help those around you predict what you will love by telling them. Put your brand out there. Be vocal. Advocate for yourself first and foremost. Then sit back and reap all your rewards.