5 work scenarios and what you can do to make a great impression
As we wait for what could be a life-changing email, I start to imagine what this lawyer might look like. Could there be a possible mix of Will Smith and Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan? I wonder if he has any acting skills. I just pray that he has a personality.
After refreshing the page at least twelve times, the e-mail appears before us. “Well, go on! Open it! Ya Allah, please let this be THE ONE!”
Not at all feeling the pressure now, I open the e-mail and… silence.
For two long minutes, my mom stares at the picture. Then she walks away.
A minute later, she comes back with my Dad. Now both stare at the screen for what seems like eternity.
Finally he speaks: “Rung kum hai.” He is dark.
But attractive, I think to myself.
Now that his “true color” has been revealed, his prestigious legal profession and even the agreeable mother-in-law suddenly do not matter any longer to my parents. This is the last I’ll see of a guy who might have been interested in Lakers basketball or Feng Shui as much I am. I’ll never know.
Sadly, this is not the first time that a suitor has been rejected because of the color of his skin.
There is something odd about the tendency of South Asian culture to prefer lighter (okay let’s be honest white) skin color, despite centuries of movements to remove imperialist rule and philosophy that favored racist mentality. Amazingly, illogic prevails.
Growing up with these contradictions in the background, I can recall many episodes in my life that could easily have instilled in me the values of seeking out white. Even the Urdu phrase used above, Rung kum hai, literally translates to “lack of color,” which could mean light or white (and thus would appear agreeable); but conversationally, it is used to describe a person who is full of color, or dark.
The mis-education starts from childhood. I often hear my family talk about how gori, or white, I was at birth, and that after I was exposed to sunlight (apparently an avoidable circumstance), I never regained my original and “normal” color, a bleach white. Once, I begged for a Black Barbie because she came with the outfit I had seen on TV. After a near tantrum in Aisle 2 of Pic ‘N’ Save that day, I went home with yet another Caucasian Barbie doll. “Beti, she is prettier.” And during those hot summer days, while all my friends were in the swimming pool, having the time of their lives playing Marco Polo, I couldn’t get in the pool until sunset so that the fear of the “dark plague” would subside.
With Bollywood films as a major source of cultural education in my teen years, I often noted that the lighter-skinned actress played the coveted role of the heroine, while the darker one was the sidekick who never even had a chance at love. As a twelve-year old, my eyes focused on the light-skinned heroine. Meanwhile, the backup dancers disappeared into the background, to their rightful place as dark, never-to-be-loved creatures of the night. Mission accomplished?
Searching for rationalization, success appears to be linked to a notion of beauty that emphasizes color. Now, if one attempts to rationalize through the Islamic framework, there really is nothing rational about color bias. The beauty emphasized by Islam is its universality, inclusiveness, and colorblindness. Islam reveres intentions and good deeds, not looks. Yet here I am, immersed in a culture focused on just that. Living through this dichotomy is painful, but becomes unbearable when those who share my faith, knowingly submit to a contradictory and divisive philosophy.
Sometimes I find myself unconsciously dismissing a potential spouse because of the color issue. When I get ready to go outside, I can’t help but think that my SPF 55 Sun Tan Lotion may do more than just protect me from harmful rays- it’ll maintain my color. Sometimes I get so caught up in this color obsession, that I feel lucky that I am of a lighter shade on the color spectrum. Such are the foolish thoughts that come to reside in one’s head after years of conditioning.
It’s difficult to change the ways and beliefs of generations old. However, as the Muslim community here in the United States is in many ways compelled to experience the diversity that is a true testament to the type of community envisioned in Islam, and is in a position where it must set out to correct myths, biases, and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims, we need to first reject internal biases that contradict the very core of the struggle that people of color have faced for generations: the struggle for acceptance.
Appreciation of diversity begins in the domestic sphere, in our homes, and in our terminology. When we talk of vibrant communities, we cannot take for granted that vibrancy comes in all shapes, sizes and colors…and on all shelves of the Barbie doll aisle at the toy store.
Work scenario #1: Talking in public
There will come a time in your career where you will be required to speak in front of a group. Being able to articulate yourself well during such situations is a sure-fire way to gain your boss’s attention (not to mention everyone else present). But unfortunately for many of us, the thought of public speaking conjures up feelings of fear and anxiousness.
So what’s the right way to overcome this and make it go your way? Jean Loh, a senior communications manager, has plenty to share as it is a big part of her job responsibility to speak publicly. “The first impression lies in your appearance. People tend to be more visual and will therefore form an opinion about you just by the way you look — your body language, your dress sense as well as your mannerism.”
So stand tall (heels may help!), look and feel presentable, do your research beforehand (so you know what you are talking about), establish eye contact with your audience and make sure the tone of your voice is confident and lively. Not only will your audience appreciate it, your boss will surely take note of the confident you!
Work scenario #2: During important meetings
Yes, meetings can take up time, attention and energy. But that doesn’t mean you use it to catch up on what your Facebook friends are up to. Believe it or not, your boss knows who is paying attention…and who is not.
Be the former if you really want to impress. For starters, don’t sit in a corner or near the door as this indicates that you are out there before your boss can say, “meeting adjourned”. Also, sit up front and pay attention. It helps to jot down what is being discussed. If anything, you can be the go-to person when everyone else has forgotten what is being talked about, which equals to you being reliable. Don’t just sit there and do nothing; ask questions and voice your opinions. Don’t be afraid to disagree if you strongly feel so.
However, be careful not to be too brash when offering your opinion. You don’t want to be the one who makes everyone groan. And keep things short; last thing you want is to be the person who drags the meeting any longer than it should. If you have more pressing issue, take it up with your boss privately. He will appreciate the concern and effort.
Work scenario #3: During an office conflict
Like it or not, office conflicts are bound to happen. The difference is how you handle yourself, especially in front of your boss. Also, this is a chance to demonstrate your leadership, management, and people skills.
The first rule to managing an office conflict? Don’t get judgmental and take sides, especially if you are called in as a third party. Answer what is asked and nothing more! Act as a facilitator if you must and establish the ground rules so that the conflict is resolved as soon as possible.
If you are part of the conflict, don’t get too emotional or personal. If you are in the wrong, be brave enough to admit it. If you feel that you’ve been wrongly accused, don’t get defensive. Instead, state your case and let your boss make the ultimate decision. Last thing your boss wants to deal with is a sobbing employee, which we have to say looks quite immature on your part. Be honest, stay strong and be focused.
Work scenario #4: Meeting other people from different departments
Whether it is a company-wide getaway or even meeting other people from the same industry, it helps if you make the right impression. Not only does it paint a positive picture of you but also leaves a good impression for your boss, who is more than happy to be associated with such a confident and impressive employee.
Remember, office socials are great to socialise in but it is also a good chance for self-publicity. We are not saying that you spill your achievements the minute you meet someone, but aim to make a good impression. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself but don’t boast either. Also, try very hard not to badmouth the company or your boss in a public setting, even if everyone else is. You never know who is listening (someone from another department who is close to your boss, perhaps?)
And please, lay off the drinks! One is enough but anything more might make a fool of you, which will definitely be the office goss the next morning!
Work scenario #5: Asking for a promotion
There are ways to ask for a promotion…and then there are ways to make sure you get what you deserve. First and foremost, make sure you are worthy of the promotion. After all, your boss will look at whether you’ve met all your targets as well as deliverables at the end of the day when deciding if you are worthy of your promotion. When talking to your boss about it, make sure you have proof of all your achievements, whether it is praises from clients or even results.
Suraya Hj Shuhaime of RHB Banking Group’s Human Resource Management Talent Sourcing, Strategic Workforce Planning, offers more advice: “Ask yourself if you are ready for that promotion before even seeing your boss. Be realistic with your answer. When approaching your boss, make sure you are professional. Don’t ask for the sky; always manage your expectations as well as your boss’s. Make sure to prepare a list of things you want to say and highlight. Don’t forget to practise your speech too!”