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Overcoming Career Obstacles: What to Do When You’ve Been Labeled as Difficult in the Workplace

by | Jan 25, 2023 | Features, Career

Who do you think you are?

This is a common question that people ask women who disrupt the status quo, shatter the glass ceiling and put their leadership skills on full display.

From Vice President Kamala Harris to Cynthia Marshall (CEO of the Dallas Mavericks), there are countless women who lead prominent organizations. In spite of this, the harsh reality is many men – and some women – are intimidated by bold and ambitious women leaders.

We live in a society that expects women to remain quiet and stay on the sidelines – especially in the workplace. As soon as we speak up for ourselves or ask for what we want, we are labeled as bossy, demanding or worse – difficult.

It’s nearly impossible to change other people’s perceptions. After all, people are going to believe what they want to believe. But you don’t have to let their labels define you or stall your career. Here’s what to do if you’ve been labeled as a difficult person in your workplace.

  1. Determine if the label is accurate. Sometimes, we have to assess our actions to see if we are unintentionally contributing to this label. Get feedback from colleagues you trust. Ask them to provide details about any of your actions that can be perceived as difficult. Commit to working on any behavior that may be holding you back.
  2. Remain calm. When people label us unfairly, a natural reaction is to become defensive and embarrassed. Even if you feel this way, resist the urge to retaliate or try to prove yourself to others. Take some time to process your emotions and develop an action plan to move forward.
  3. Keep shining and being your best. Unjust criticism can cause us to hide our talents and play small. It isn’t your problem if people are threatened by your accomplishments and leadership qualities. Confidently move forward and go after your goals.
  4. Speak with your mentor or career coach. Handling the stress of a hostile work environment can get the best of you if you try to go it alone. Your career coach or mentor can provide you with invaluable insights on how to navigate through workplace challenges.
  5. Learn to expect and handle conflict. Happily ever after only occurs in the movies. Claiming your seat at the table requires grit, perseverance and fortitude. When you challenge long-held beliefs and systemic structures, you will experience resistance. Embrace it.

Whatever you do, try not to let this label stop you. Continue to take on new challenges and reach for new opportunities. Always remember, comfort and growth cannot coexist.

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