In a perfect world, your completed assignments would speak for themselves. You’d work on friendly, collaborative teams with fair-minded co-workers, and each person would be free with praise and full of self-effacing humility.
But the reality is that you need to speak up. Generosity and a humble nature are great attributes to have, of course. However, if you think you can just let your work speak for itself and never stake out that territory yourself, then being “the humble one” is hurting your career.
It Makes You Invisible
Imagine this: Your team just completed a complex, innovative project, and you feel proud of your contributions to the group effort. But when the boss stands up at the company meeting to praise your team’s work, others are singled out for individual contributions while you seem invisible. If you’re a quieter contributor, everyone from your own teammates to company leadership may overlook you completely.
Why is this? People tend to be remembered for those roles rather than the exact things they did. For instance, the “organizer” will usually get credit for most tasks related to organization, because people will remember him as inhabiting that role.
If you’re not known for anything, you’ll be lost in the shuffle when opportunities for advancement come up and no one can think of your strengths.
Solution: Carve Out Your Niche on Your Team
Step one: Pick a role you like. Step two: Make it known that you’ve mastered that particular skill or job.
Take ownership of what you’d like to be known for on your team and look for opportunities to pick up projects or tasks involving that thing.
For example, maybe your work is rarely noticed because you sign up for roles that require execution, rather than standing up in front of the room and presenting. You can make that work, so long as your teammates come to depend on you for those tasks. In other words, make sure everyone knows that you have killer attention to detail, so for example, drafts always cross your desk before they’re considered final.
It Makes You a Doormat
It’s a terrible feeling when someone else takes credit for your work.
You’d think it would be less likely to when you like the people you work with, but it can happen to anyone. Stolen credit puts you in a sticky spot: At the very least you’re staring down a highly uncomfortable interpersonal situation.
So you remind yourself that “there’s no ‘I’ in team” and let someone else get all the accolades.
Solution: Share Credit, But Don’t Throw it Away
The first step to ensuring you get credit is making sure you’re not getting in your way. When someone compliments you, don’t shy away from it and gush about others. Think about the difference between deflecting praise and sharing it. It’s possible to believe strongly in your team and put “we” first while also mentioning your contributions, which allows you to draw and distribute attention at the same time.
Instead of: “Oh, thanks, but I give all the credit for that website to my team.” Try this instead: “Thank you, I enjoyed working on the project. The whole team really pulled together to bring that site to life.”
It Makes You Feel Stuck
It’s hard to find a balance between proudly claiming your due and sounding cocky—especially if you’ve never been one to talk about yourself. You want to be seen for your accomplishments and abilities, but without off-putting self-praise that makes people uncomfortable.
And if you’ve been in the background some time, you could feel that that’s what your co-workers expect of you. You don’t want to change team dynamics or be seen as having flipped a switch all the way from “humble and quiet” to “arrogant and loud” overnight.
It may even be that others are even resistant to your newfound desire to carve out a niche for yourself and speak up for your work.
Solution: Establish a Presence Outside Your Team
If your colleagues aren’t supportive—or at best, are just confused and unhelpful to start—consider developing a side project or independent work to showcase your talents. This can make it easier for hiring managers (or your company’s leadership) to see your contributions within the team’s work based on your individual abilities.
This could mean taking on a completely independent project or work, or looking for freelancing opportunities or volunteer work in your field. (Of course, always make sure your company policies allow freelancing before doing so.)
Once your co-workers see you accomplish something on your own, they’ll have new information to go off of when constructing their opinion of you and what you can contribute to the team.
Generous people who practice humility can get ahead. The key is to make sure you’re in control of how you practice it.