When I was working in a previous role, I had someone I admired and respected say the following to me:
“Ruth, you’re not as good as you think you are.”
It was hard to hear and harder to forget.
Let me give you some context – that sentence came after a meeting where I had asked for a raise. I had asked for a lot in that meeting. My tactic was simple; ask for the best scenario for me and wait to be haggled down. I went in asking for too much; the money I asked for was perhaps too high (I expected to be met in the middle), I wanted to work one day a week from home (which was accommodated for whenever I asked for it, I just wanted it guaranteed) and I wanted a title change.
I gave evidence (which no one else in my company, as far as I was aware, had done) and said it all in a respectful and thought-out manner.
The reception to my requests wasn’t what I expected. In short, it had gone so badly that I didn’t know what to do in response. So I, of course, cried.
“You’re not as good as you think you are.”
That’s a hard one to swallow as a creative; it’s what your inner self is saying to you all the time anyway – you definitely don’t need someone to point it out to you – and deny you something you felt you deserved. In short, I walked away with nothing I had asked for and a bruised relationship with someone I respected.
Ultimately, this exchange taught me two things:
- The person saying that to me had a lot going on, the company was bringing in a proper line manager for the first time to work with me and my timing had been shitty. Someone even advised me of this at the time – my ego got the better of me.
- Saying “You’re not as good as you think you are” is hurtful and unprofessional. We both handled it badly.
But this story taught me a few life lessons, and I want to share them with you. Being told you’re not good at your job is never good to hear – especially if you think you have done well. So, here’s how to handle the hurt and some positive steps to take so you don’t end up like me; storming out and throwing a tantrum.
Step one: Keep your cool.
I say this as someone who thoroughly did not keep their cool. Which is why I wish I had someone to say it to me at the time. If someone says something to you that immediately evokes an emotional reaction (i.e. you want to cry) then take yourself out of that situation.
What I should have said is “I don’t agree with what you’ve just said and I’d like some time to think about my response.” Then I should have left the damn room. Instead, I proceeded to cry and sobbed my way through why I thought the person in question was being “unfair”. Like a child.
Keep your cool, leave the room.
Step two: Talk to someone else and explain what happened.
For me, this was my other half and my best friend. Sometimes, telling your story to someone else helps you think about what actually happened. When I was explaining what had happened to someone completely removed from the situation I found the following thoughts surfaced:
- Now that I’m relaying this to someone else, was I being unreasonable in my demands? It put me in the other person’s shoes and made me assess if I was being unfair.
- Some of my points were valid. I had given good evidence and I had made a good case in a professional manner.
- What was said to me was unprofessional and a lesson in itself: sometimes, things get said in the heat of the moment when someone feels backed into a corner – how each person handles that says volumes about their character.
Step three: If you’re struggling to say it, write it.
Some of the best advice I have read on this subject comes from Feminist Fight Club. If you’re finding it hard to say something write it down instead. Emails are less stressful, you can clearly think out what you’re trying to say and it’s documented evidence of a conversation. In an email, you’re in control and it gives you time to think about your next response. It’s the virtual version of keeping your cool.
Step four: Plan your next step.
Essentially, after a meeting like that, there are two approaches to take that result in a positive outcome.
- Accept that there was some truth in what was said and a little humility is a good thing – work harder to earn what you asked for. But make an agreed plan with the other party about how to do this – ask for clear goals to work towards and get it written down. You need evidence for your next meeting where you will get your raise or due recognition.
- Realise that what you asked for was reasonable and the response was unjustified. It’s time to move on. Find a new company that recognises your talents and pays you what you are worth, right now. You’ll know deep down, and after talking it out with trusted advisors, if you’re better off somewhere else.
Step five: Treat yourself.
When you’ve had a hard conversation with someone you need to take time for you. This can take many forms; reading a much-loved book, taking a long bath, cooking a favourite meal, watching a Pixar movie, walking your dogs or cuddling your cat. By recognising your feelings and rewarding yourself with something ‘feel-good’ you’re able to heal in a healthy way. Depending on the severity of the situation, you could even see a health professional and write a blog post about it. It worked for me.
(Bonus) Step six: Ask Cindy Gallop what the fuck to do
Cindy Gallop is the queen of all she surveys, and you’ve liked to read more about her, then check out this article about her. In the meantime, you can talk to her via a chatbot and she’ll advise you on how to get a raise. It’s fucking great. All hail Cindy.
Quick-fire advice when someone says “You suck at your job”
- Keep your cool and walk out the room.
- Talk it out with a trusted friend or colleague.
- Don’t say it, write it down.
- Plan your next step so that you end up better off.
- Repair; treat yourself to something you love.
- (Brucey bonus) Ask Queen Cindy Gallop for help.