How to make an impact at work

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Stylist Team
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The latest episode of The Apprentice gave rise to a host of dubious French phrases (vouz parlez anglaise, anyone?) and also saw the demise of Leon Doyle, who failed to assert himself - in French or otherwise.

It was easy to see how Leon ended up taking a back seat next to uber-determined teammate Melody Hossaini, yet he paid the ultimate price for his reluctance to get involved.

In the real world of business, fading into the background at work is a surprisingly common pitfall - whether through shyness, difficulty in making your voice heard above other, more assertive colleagues or uncertainty about how your ideas will be received.

To help you avoid similar pitfalls, Stylist spoke to Helena Sharpstone, co-founder and director of Sharpstone Skinner, a boutique consultancy specialising in training and coaching for leadership and team development. She gave us the following tips on how to make an impact, assert your skills and become an invaluable member of the team at work:

Adapt yourself to the people around you

People often think of the issue of assertiveness as being divided between being determined and ruthless or a shrinking violet - but the truth is less clear-cut than that. The most successful employees who really make an impact at work tend to be skilled in their ability to adapt to the team surrounding them. They tune into the personalities of the people they are working with - whether they are upfront and go-getting, intellectual or more casual to their approach in getting things done. In a way, it's less to do with who you are and more to do with how you are able to develop relationships with your colleagues, and react and respond to them accordingly. It is this that will help to get you noticed and make you a crucial member of the team.

Be a radiator not a drain

People naturally gravitate to successful people who make them feel better about themselves - and this applies as much to work as it does to other areas of life. There tend to be a lot of naysayers in the workplace who are eager to tell you why an idea will never work. While criticism can be constructive, it's important that you stand out from the rest by building on other peoples' ideas, rather than dismissing them completely. By all means, give an input to brainstorming sessions and make your opinions known (there's no benefit in standing on the side lines), but do so in a way that is constructive and forward-thinking. Think more "how can we make this work" rather than "this is never going to happen." If you're open to new ideas it's much more constructive to a team than saying "this is my style" or "I've been here ten years and we've always done that" (basically, admissions of inflexibility).

Act half a level up all the time

Think, speak and present yourself in a way that is half a level up from your actual job position. This doesn't mean walking all over your seniors or attempting to undermine them, but simply behaving in a way that inspires confidence from others. Volunteer for difficult tasks that others are not keen to do. Don't hang back - be a contributor and make a reputation for yourself as someone who is willing to get things done. The more you do that, the more your colleagues will have faith in you to take control, and making an impact will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Acting more senior than you are also has to do with the way you look; make sure you are groomed and blend in with the dress code of where you work. People take a lot from the way you present yourself and you'll find it's much easier to be taken seriously if you start off by looking the part.

Put your name to things

The workplace is full of followers looking for someone else to take the lead. Most people think they want to be in charge but when it comes to stepping up they shy away. Don't be afraid to take responsibility for tasks, problems and developments - don't let other people handle things for you. When everyone else is looking down and avoiding eye contact, be the one to look up, take charge and be counted. By being accountable in this way, you will quickly get yourself noticed as someone in command. People who go more than halfway in meeting others always stand out from the crowd - whether that's taking time to introduce themselves to new team members or getting stuck in. Don't let a fear of mistakes hold you back; ironically, people who take the initiative tend to go wrong less in the long-run, as they learn from the risks they take along the way.

Be authentic

Humans are hardwired to sniff out a fake, so it's important you stay true who you are. That's not to say you shouldn't adapt yourself according to your environment (as above) or be the best version of yourself you can be - but make sure you're genuine. Making a business successful takes all kinds of different people with varied temperaments, so don't hold back from who you are. The main thing is to frame yourself and your personality within a professional environment and according to guidelines of decent, confident behaviour. The world of work is a very small place and you should not compromise your place in it by making enemies. The best type of employees who make an impact in the long-term are those who can deal with tricky issues or deliver criticism in an engaging, positive way that inspires confidence and trust in others.