When Worlds Near-Miss — Page 2 of 2

3. Air grievances before they sour relationships permanently.

From our parents we Asians learn to be tolerant and patient with the foibles of others. This trait is valuable in a family context where children need room to make mistakes, but is counterproductive in a professional context.

Say a colleague has said something that insults or offends you. Your initial tendency may be to swallow your anger and pretend it never happened. The problem with that approach is that in the American workplace your forbearance will typically be taken as weakness or acquiescence, ensuring that similar offenses will be repeated. Each time it is, your anger and hostility will increase until it builds up to the boiling point. Explosions are usually — though not always — counterproductive. One such occurrence could alienate your colleagues for good.

That’s why it’s important to cultivate a reflex for addressing offenses on the spot. Let’s say a colleague said something in a meeting that you took to be a putdown. Rather than letting it simmer, it’s best to call her attention to it on the spot. The offense may have been motivated by insensitivity or ignorance rather than outright malice. The best approach is to take a bantering tone that calls attention to the offense without turning yourself into a hypersensitive heavy.

By expressing your displeasure on the spot, you avoid building up unhealthy resentments and increase the chances of clearing up misunderstandings at an early stage. That helps keep your professional relationships on a constructive footing and preserves your equanimity.

Being casually and good-naturedly confrontational isn’t easy for many people, especially Asian Americans. But it’s a valuable skill to develop if you are to preserve goodwill between you and your colleagues.

4. Own up to your mistakes.

Asians are often taught to believe that a mistake is shameful, suggesting failure. Consequently, they may be tempted to dig in and defend or deny a mistake rather than owning up to it and moving on. One strength of the American workplace is that mistakes are tolerated — even encouraged — in the spirit of innovation and dynamism. By attaching too much importance to mistakes or failures, you deny yourself the benefits of a creative, nurturing environment. What’s more, those who would have easily forgiven mistakes or failures will find it inadvisable to tolerate your tendency to defend or hide mistakes. That could lead to a lowering of trust

By cheerfully and honestly owning up to mistakes and failures, you increase the trust of superiors, peers and subordinates and help preserve a dynamic and productive work environment. Failure is a costly but valuable investment that will pay for itself many times over with future successes. Don’t hesitate to claim your share of it.

5. Ask for responsibility.

Asking for more responsibility doesn’t sit well with most people, especially those from a heritage that prizes reserve, modesty and a high degree of deference to the feelings of others. Yet, from a manager’s standpoint, one of the best indicators of promotability is a willingness, even eagerness, to take on more responsibility. They assume that the most capable people will be the ones asking most loudly and persistently for more responsibility. Your reticence on the issue is more likely to be seen as an admission that you feel underqualified rather than as a sign of your quiet faith and self-assurance.

Too many Asians quietly wait to be recognized for their talents and contributions, then become dismayed, disillusioned and angry as they are passed up for promotions.

If you want more responsibility, don’t hang back in the hope the boss will recognize your merits on her own. Hope is good only if you have no better option. Your best option is to ask for a conference and tell her that you are ready for more responsbility. And don’t just do it once. Keep doing it every month or so. If you don’t, you’re only setting yourself up for a long wait — and ultimate disappointment and disillusionment. Prev

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