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How to Stand Out at Work Without Stepping on People’s Toes

Too many guys mistake standing out with making others look bad. Here's how you can be your boss' fav without being your coworkers' worst nightmare.

Happy man in office
Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe

I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.

One of the biggest challenges at work is trying to stand out and excel without stepping on anyone’s toes in the process. Unfortunately, many people fall into the trap of thinking that, to succeed, others need to fail or fall behind. This attitude is fueled by competitive feelings we have in the workplace (which will vary in degree, depending on how competitive the industry is that you work for). It may also be engendered by personal ambition, anxieties about job security, and expectations about what success looks like (i.e. you have to be ruthless to get what you want).

However, this approach to work and one’s colleagues may not sit well with some. You may feel uncomfortable about the idea of boosting your reputation at work by trying to undermine others (either through your words or actions). The good news is that you can stand out at work without stepping on any toes. Here’s how.

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Develop Positive Relationships With Your Colleagues

While you may believe that your boss will be impressed by your willingness to dominate in the workplace, the reality of the situation is quite different. If you are cold, impolite, mean, and harsh towards your colleagues, your boss will see this as an inability to engage in teamwork. In contrast, if you can show your boss that you can cooperate well with others, then you will certainly stand out. Collaboration is key to the success of any business, so make sure you put effort into developing positive relationships with your colleagues. Your boss will pick up on this.

To build rapport with your colleagues, make sure you are willing to offer help and support when they need it. Also, simply doing small things like expressing your appreciation for your colleagues and recognizing the value they bring to your projects is enough to make you stand out. Bill Driscoll, district president of Accountemps, a San Diego-based staffing firm, emphasizes that “being considerate of others is at the heart of building a good reputation at work.”

Stay Professional

Another vital way of standing out at work without stepping on any toes is to remain as professional as possible. In the workplace, there will undoubtedly be disagreements. This is what happens when everyone has the freedom to share their ideas during meetings. While you may instinctively take criticism of your ideas or input as a personal attack, don’t assume that they’re intended that way. Disagreement in the workplace is often healthy, as it ensures that the best business ideas are brought to the surface, fleshed out, strategized, and then improved upon by different team members.

You will stand out as a professional employee if you attentively listen to your colleagues’ opinions, respect their contributions, and express any disagreements you have in a healthy, productive manner. Resist temptations to talk to others in an accusatory way, thinking that this will impress your boss. That won’t work. If you do this, your boss will just think you’re being immature and unprofessional. Driscoll notes that “etiquette offenses occasionally happen, but too many can have a cumulative effect on your professional reputation and career prospects.”

Always aim to talk about business ideas in a calm, friendly, and impartial way. Pay attention to your tone of voice, body language, and how you respond to others, as all of these factors can stand out in the workplace.

Own Your Shortcomings

If you feel that you’re inhibiting other people’s effort and progress as a result of your actions, then own up to it. This will prove to your boss that you’re willing to be honest about your shortcomings and determined to resolve them. Colleagues who have this kind of self-awareness will certainly stand out to their boss – and they are more likely to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes in the future.

Hone Your Craft

Rather than get involved with office gossip and politics, focus on building your skills and becoming an invaluable asset to the company. This is an essential aspect of boosting your reputation in the workplace. Show your manager and your team that you are engaged at work: exude passion, commitment, and enthusiasm when carrying out your tasks and working on your projects.

Employees who gain a negative reputation are those who tend to engage in petty arguments and conflicts – and who intrude upon the work of others – in an attempt to gain an upper hand. Don’t fall into this trap. It will be detrimental to your career in the long run.

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