Is being told I'm "reserved" an insult?

(37 Posts)
macmacaroon Thu 13-Dec-18 12:10:41

I had my application for promotion turned down and in course of receiving feedback told I am "reserved' and compared to extrovert male colleagues who are doing well in their careers. I find this quite difficult as, yes, I am quieter and I do focus on getting my work done / head down as also have two LOs (4yo and 2yo) but that is my personality type. I am introverted but am also sociable and chatty and have never had problems making friends. Yes, I could get lots of coaching to become whatever the opposite of being reserved is and get "out there" but I just find the label "reserved" insulting and makes me wonder - does my face just not fit? I see younger ones getting promoted over me and I wonder if it's time to move on. I'm a lawyer and it's a competitive environment but think is it time to accept I just don't cut the mustard. When I asked my boss for candid view about whether it's worth applying again next year he was like "yes but I think there's a lot of work to be done (on profile raising not technically ability)" not very encouraging. Also I get cut of emails on cases I'm working on and generally just feel invisible. Wrong environment or crisis of confidence ? I just wish being myself was enough but it clearly isn't . Sorry for the ramble!

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FestiveNut Thu 13-Dec-18 12:23:26

I don't think it's an insult. Reserved people just tend to look before they leap verbally. Think of it as conversationally cautious. However, lots of the high-flying professions, such as law and medicine, are full of 'type A' personalities and you need a certain degree of confidence and extroversion to fit in and do well. If you want to progress, I'd try faking it until you make it. Network more, get your name out there. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will either.

DamsonWhine Thu 13-Dec-18 12:28:44

It’s unconscious bias in action

WitsEnding Thu 13-Dec-18 12:35:03

It's not an insult, but it can be a bar to progress. It's difficult to demonstrate 'drive' to people you don't work with directly if you aren't a natural extrovert. Could it help to be 'pushy' on behalf of a pet project or cause at work, and in this way become the person who very visibly goes over and above and gets things done/ is comfortable taking the lead. As an introvert myself this feels less like changing the person I am than trying to be extrovert at icebreakers does! Employers often look for HR buzzword concepts like dynamic, catalyst, motivational, etc.

fruitbrewhaha Thu 13-Dec-18 12:42:35

Is it male colleagues being promoted? Or female too?

macmacaroon Thu 13-Dec-18 12:44:24

Across the firm - both. In my department- male. All managers in my team are male.

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HundredMilesAnHour Thu 13-Dec-18 14:20:23

I don't think reserved is an insult. However, in many corporate environments if you wish to get promoted, you need to be aware that it's not just about being good at what you do but about being seen to be good. Quietly getting on with your job is not enough. Self-promotion and self-confidence are important and you need to work on both of these if you want to move upwards.

Also, are you aware how some of your comments come across?There's a bit of a vibe that you think you're resentful and think you're a little superior.

For example, "I am quieter and I do focus on getting my work done / head down" implies that you don't think your extrovert colleagues don't get their work done. It's subtle but it comes across like you think you're better than them. Maybe you are but they're the ones getting promoted so you need to learn a lesson from that. You need to think about changing your approach.

Also, "I see younger ones getting promoted over me". You can't say that! You can say 'less experienced' or 'newer' but you can't refer to them as 'younger ones'. It comes across as you're bitter and quietly sit at your desk resenting everyone. I hope this isn't the case and I'm sorry if you think I'm being harsh but the language you use in competitive corporate cultures can be really important, and the difference between succeeding or not.

TwiceMagic Thu 13-Dec-18 14:26:58

I think that it sounds like perfectly reasonable feedback on a promotion application. Saying that you are very reserved and need to do a lot of work to raise your profile within the company is a perfectly reasonable justification for not promoting you.

It sounds like it’s a coincidence that it’s men within your department that are promoted rather than anything systematic. Being introverted isn’t a gendered issue or a protected characteristic and may well make someone less effective in a particular job role (but may be an advantage in others).

If I were you I’d ask for training/coaching to build more effective relationships and raise your profile at work. It’s definitely not an insult, but feedback that might help you to succeed next time you apply for promotion.

CurlsLDN Thu 13-Dec-18 14:30:15

It's not a comment on how sociable you are at all. Often senior roles come hand in hand with increased leadership responsibility, whether that's managing people, or leading on ideas and decisions.

- in a group meeting do you fight for what you believe to the right decision?
- do you confidentally throw your ideas and opinions into the team, even if theres a good chance you may be wrong, because you could be right?
- if something is not being done the best way, do you competently speak up and handle the situation, steering it in a better direction?
- if volunteers are required to do things out of usual job spec or out of comfort zone, do you step up?

These types of things are not what reserved people would always do, but are what leaders would do. That doesn't mean the leaders are obnoxious, show offs or self important, rather that they show an ability to make themselves heard for the greater good and drive things forward

FfionFlorist Thu 13-Dec-18 14:38:37

I was described as "confident but reserved" by a partner in my first job ( big 4 accountancy) 25 years ago. I worried that it was a criticism, I think it was with hindsight. But I think it was accurate and in the end being aware of how people perceive you is a real positive. I've been a CFO of a large business for several years so it's never held me back. It won't hold you back either.

macmacaroon Thu 13-Dec-18 15:04:42

Hundred miles an hour - thanks for you feedback. Yes I am bitter and resentful - you are right.. I'm resentful that I work hard but that's not enough. I am angry that I have so much work to do in order to succeed as I have worked bloody hard already. My quandary is whether I stay and do the work I recognise I need to do or whether I give up and take on a back office role or job where I don't have to try so hard. I don't think I'm more able than my male extrovert colleagues but i do think I have qualities they lack like emotional intelligence that don't really help me process.

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HundredMilesAnHour Thu 13-Dec-18 15:29:22

I think it's good that you realise that you have a tough decision to make OP.

You're understandably bitter now but once the dust settles, will you later regret not doing the extra work to go for promotion next year? Or are you done and you'd rather than stay as you are, or find a less taxing role elsewhere? There are no rights or wrongs here, just what works best for you and what will make you happiest/least miserable (while covering your bills).

I think corporate culture is so brutal these days. I know law is really rough. So is Financial Services where I work. Being bright and working hard is a given. To move upwards, that's just some of the minimum criteria. You need to be politically savvy (which your emotional intelligence should help you with rather than hinder) but you also need to be adept at self-promotion. And you need to be able to act. If you're quiet and reserved, you need to work on your work persona. And be willing to sacrifice almost all of your time because your rivals will most likely be doing this. Everyone I know at a senior level does fairly stupid hours. People try to balance it by logging on/having calls after the kids have gone to bed, working on the train to work etc but it's tough. And then you look at the level above them, and most of those guys are working even harder. Yes, they get the big bucks surprise so many people burn out.

SpongeBobJudgeyPants Thu 13-Dec-18 15:34:59

I dont think it's an insult. I do think it is probably an example of valuing a 'typically male attribute' of being extrovert and hail-fellow-well-met over and above quietly and conscientously getting your work done (possibly considered more stereotypically female?) So I think you may be being discriminated against for being female. Assuming all things are equal. I don't think it sounds like you will be able to prove it though, sorry.

LordEmsworth Thu 13-Dec-18 15:50:39

Stop working so hard and try working better. There is no point being amazing at what you do if no one ever sees it, so you need to tell them about it.

I am a massive introvert, I have developed myself to ensure that I can communicate my great qualities to others, so they know that I am delivering. If I don't tell them, how will they know?

You will not find a job where you magically get promoted on the basis of ability, without also raising your profile. Changing jobs will not fix your problem. Accepting that you need to get out of your comfort zone and finding a way to do that without compromising your need to deliver and get on with tasks, will.

macmacaroon Thu 13-Dec-18 15:58:41

Lordemsworth - how did you go about your transformation? I am not a confident person and so I find it so hard to self promote

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titchy Thu 13-Dec-18 16:10:36

Agree with others it's not an insult at all, but an honest assessment of your personality.

You can either change into more of a leader-type personality (curls' post is good - read it constructively rather than defensively), or look to move into an area that suits your personality.

I'm reserved, but work in a strategic, analytical role which doesn't need a big voice - the data talks for me.

macmacaroon Thu 13-Dec-18 16:10:40

This is part of the problem (and possibly also why I'm resentful) I no longer have the time to dedicate myself to work like my child-free colleagues. I used to be able to work at weekends and catch up / do the bus dev stuff them but now with two under five I only after 7pm at the weekends by which time I'm pooped!

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macmacaroon Thu 13-Dec-18 16:12:13

If anyone knows of any good coaches / websites / books for developing these skills ( self promotion/ assertiveness etc) I'd be grateful if you'd share them with me.

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Chapellass Thu 13-Dec-18 20:22:19

You have had some clear feedback to act on, which is a positive. If your firm will assign you a coach,great - but if not look for a mentor (ideally someone more senior to you in the firm who is also an introvert).

Ask the person who is appraising you for performance for regular catch ups, get feed back in between both upwards and downwards. Client feedback works a treat for promotions too.

Can you delegate more downwards of your current tasks so you can start stepping up and behaving as if already promoted?

Sally Fisher is a fantastic coach - not sure if the cost. But used by law firms and Big 4. Vanessa Vallelly's sessions if you can get to any are excellent for brand, imposter syndrome, networking etc.

As a working mother and fellow lawyer, my advice to you is to stop comparing your progress to others. It's a long game - cringe phrase but it's true.

To the person who said that being an extrovert is a male trait, that is ridiculous. I work with more female extroverts than male - however I do still think it's easier to get promoted as a man in professional services.

CitrusFruit9 Thu 13-Dec-18 20:58:29

I used to be a partner in a law firm and was managed out after having children exactly because they decided that working 8am to 7.30pm every night did not cut it (no bloke in my all male department ever strolled in before 10am but that was perfectly fine) and I should be out drinking with the boys/clients in the evenings afterwards. Being left out of decisions and email traffic were the early signs.

I suspect you are entering this phase and personally the words "yes but I think there's a lot of work to be done (on profile raising not technically ability)" would worry me a lot. "Reserved" is code for "does not fit in because she is not one of the boys". Loyalty has absolutely no place in law these days.

Would moving firms or going in-house be an option? In-house tends to have more reasonable hours. I think it is worth picking up the phone to several head hunters and seeing what is out there. You may be pleasantly surprised.

macmacaroon Thu 13-Dec-18 21:29:47

Am not sure moving firms would help as they are all so similar culturally. In-house I have no experience of so can look into that.

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macmacaroon Thu 13-Dec-18 23:04:47

Did you stay in law citrus fruit?

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daisychain01 Fri 14-Dec-18 06:51:50

Sorry to be doom and gloom about this but in my experience of how promotions work in organisations:-

Firstly, they could promote you but have actively decided not to, giving you the excuse your face doesn't fit in their little club, under the guise of "you're too reserved". When it gets to the point where the person you naturally are becomes a barrier to their invisible criteria for membership, it's time to consider whether you want to invest your career in their hands, if they can't accept your skills and talents without wanting you to be a different person.

If you "fix" the reserved problem, they'll find some other excuse. They've branded you and you won't shake that off.

The only hope would be if any of them chose to leave the firm, and the management dynamic changed. Currently it's a closed shop. Sub-text: you're probably a threat

In a different organisation you could become an asset, so don't invest too many years of your career here, where they don't value what you have to offer.

Madeline88 Fri 14-Dec-18 07:02:52

What’s the level of promotion? If you need to focus on profile raising it’s because they need to ensure you will be networking and bringing the business in, it’s not just about the quality of your work at a certain level.

macmacaroon Fri 14-Dec-18 07:46:49

The level of promotion is to legal director which is an alternative to partner which means it's specifically doesn't require you to go out to market to win business but does require internal networking

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