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How to Navigate the Workplace | 5 Sticky Situations

A shoe that's stepped in gum.

You’re confident you just did some really great work and you want to champion yourself, but you don’t want to seem too “braggy.”

You’re not sure what salary to request or what to say to negotiate a better raise.

You are happy that your relationships with your new colleagues are positive and friendly...but you almost wonder if you might be getting a little too chummy. Or on the flip side, you’re surrounded by coworkers who seem to have a bad day just about every day.

At the New York Women in Communications’ (NYWICI) Young Professionals event on November 15th, possible solutions to these “sticky situations” were revealed. The YoPro Happy Hour and Sticky Situations panel presentation was a lively and informative event featuring three professionals who shared their expertise in the areas of talent strategy and HR, communications, and advocacy for women in the workplace.

The panel was moderated by Vanessa Clark, HR Director of NYC’s Lord & Taylor, who set the tone for camaraderie and frank discussion. Panelists included Laura Burkart, Director of People & Culture at Superfly, Claire Wasserman, Founder of Ladies Get Paid (an organization dedicated to helping women advocate for their value in the workplace), and Meryl Weinsaft Cooper, Founder/Principal of The COOPERation and program leader for a variety of arts and culture clients (including The Moth, Brooklyn Museum, and The International Center for Photography).

Check out the lessons learned below!

1. What are some ways to be a champion for yourself in the office...without seeming to “braggy”?

Meryl Weinsaft Cooper (who also co-wrote the book Be Your Own Best Publicist) cleverly suggested that you pat yourself on the back while patting others on the back also. In what ways have your coworkers positively contributed to your successful project?

Another option is to think about the type of coworker you want to work with, and model your behavior using that framework. What would a coworker say about themselves that would cause you to think positively about them? “If what you say comes from a place of passion and deeply believing in your work, it won’t come off as braggy,” Claire Wasserman (Ladies Get Paid) added. 

Be sure to quantify what you’re doing and accomplishing in your job. A key distinction between male and female employees is that men tend to focus on their accomplishments whereas women showcase their job responsibilities. Switch your focus. One way of doing this is to talk about what you learned while engaged in your work—this should help you reveal your accomplishments over duties.

2. How do I know the salary to request or how to negotiate a raise?

All panelists were clear that doing your research and being prepared to negotiate are important. Asking friends about their salaries and locating reputable resources for salary information can also be helpful.

Wasserman stated that when we look at money as a taboo topic (and many people do) it can really hurt women. It’s important to create a safe space for having those conversations.

She also suggested "making friends" with recruiters, as it can be very insightful to hear about salary decisions from the other side. Those who are deciding on the salaries for new roles can give you great insights for benchmarking purposes. Even if you are not actively seeking a job at any given organization, consider connecting with recruiters who can share details with you regarding salary decisions. Being informed of what others earn will help you have a more successful salary negotiation.

While salary can be an important factor in switching to a new job, “don’t make a major job move based on salary alone,” Laura Burkart cautioned. “Your happiness is not dependent on what you make.”

Cooper added, “there are so many other things you can ask for—work-from-home arrangements, time off, flexibility, vacation…” Avoid being focused on salary alone and look at the negotiation as an opportunity to advocate for perks that don’t necessarily have a monetary value.

Wasserman also encouraged job seekers to remember that negotiation does not have to be adversarial. “Go into it wanting the best outcome for both sides,” Cooper agreed.

3. How do you deal with negative coworkers?

Remember that everyone has a bad day—most of the time, it’s not about you. Cooper is in favor of the “praise sandwich”:

  • Say something positive about the person
  • Fill in with a constructive criticism
  • Finish with another positive attribute

Panelists also suggested that you put yourself in their shoes to see things from their perspective, as this can help you take things less personally.

4. What do you do when your manager leaves the job?

This question alludes to the idea that when your boss leaves, it’s likely that you’ll have to pick up the slack. How do you do this in a way that gets you recognized (but allows you to keep your sanity)?

Burkart recommended that you see it as an opportunity to show your strengths. Patience is key—while you may be expected to take on extra work, it’s not quite the right time to ask for more money. She advised that you volunteer to do more; after the dust settles, use your experience as a way to illustrate your worth and negotiate a higher salary.

“Don’t let it go on too long, though,” Wasserman warned. Three months is a good time frame, allowing you some time to track what you’ve done: how you’ve stepped up, what resulted from it, and how you affected positive change at work.

5. How do you tell your boss you’re overwhelmed without seeming like you can’t do your job?

There’s been a slow trend toward having more transparent dialogue in the office, and that includes speaking frankly to your manager when you are facing challenges. However, if you’re worried that being too open regarding what you can and can’t handle can backfire on you, you have right to be concerned.

One option is to develop a priority system for your projects. Burkart suggested labeling your projects with a “traffic light” system—green for high priority items, yellow for medium priority responsibilities, and red for projects that can be put on hold. Be forthright with your manager about how many red, yellow, and green projects you can have going at any given time, and make sure that they are in agreement with your order of priority.

When you are asked to complete a project that is outside of the priorities you’ve already outlined, go back to your list and see how your projects can be reprioritized. Rearranging your tasks is important to your success—don’t continuously add new items to your list without finding space for catching your breath and giving yourself the time necessary to do your best work.


Find out how to manage up at work with this helpful guide for aligning with your manager.

By Victoria Crispo

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