BITE ME: the humble

don't ask why. ask why not.

BITE ME: the humble

Bite Me is a special 14-installment series based on an undercover  stint at a supermarket to draw out lessons on how to better relate to challenging colleagues in the workplace and how to be a better colleague.

These “profiles” are based on real customers who wanted free samples of food.

It’s cheeky and deliciously honest.

To read the others:

Introduction

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The Humble
be proud

 The Personality

The Humble shyly approaches my sample table or paces without stepping up. Unless you are vegetarian, the inviting aroma of the jalapeno bison sausages I’m cooking on the George Foreman Grill is hard to walk by without wanting to shove five into your mouth.

The Humble, however, is not like the others. He stands behind the others with hungry eyes. I know what he wants, and he knows what he wants. But he doesn’t want to seem presumptuous. After a minute of a shy dance, I call out to him, “you look like you want to try some. Come try some.” The Humble slowly comes over, “oh, no, I couldn’t” as drool starts to form at the corners of his mouth. I shove a piece of the sausage into his open hands.

He finally accepts, eats it, and bursts with joy. He then engages me in a conversation about how he prefers bison to beef, and spends a few minutes with me discussing the movie Food, Inc.

My initial assumption of this shy individual is that while he is terribly polite (standing in line is a rarity with bison sausage), but perhaps doesn’t have much to offer. Although he may have thought that his humility and politeness a good virtue, I find his inability to articulate his desire annoying. It wasn’t as if he was asking me for a bank loan. To be quite frank, if it had not been my job to get as many customers to try my sausage as possible, I would have simply overlooked him as a person who just didn’t have the confidence to simply state he wanted a sample. If I hadn’t initiated, the Humble’s behavior almost led me to miss out a good conversation, and he would have missed out on free food.

It’s Not Me, It’s You….

You might have someone on your team who is lovely and polite, and forgettable. It’s easy to overlook or be frustrated by this person. After all, how many times do you want to watch his crestfallen face when he doesn’t get the project you can tell he wants but didn’t ask for it or when a colleague takes credit for his work? If he won’t step up and take due credit, why should you bother to do it for him?

Help the Humble leverage his politeness as a strength and help him step outside his comfort zone.

  • Be generous. Offer your praise – the more you do it, the more the Humble will have to get comfortable with receiving it. Praise in public so that others hear who is deserving of the credit.
  • Ask to elicit, not to push. Gently ask to elicit his thoughts and opinions. Avoid being too pushy, as the Humble may retreat. He will be more apt to open up when asking for his perspectives, rather than for his achievements.
  • Don’t go first. The Humble often waits for everyone else to go first. Next time, pass your turn and let him go first. This will push him to step up and stop him from dropping back into the shadows.

It’s Me….

Many of us are raised to honor the virtue of humility. After all, one should not be arrogant in his accomplishments or be a show-off. We don’t ask for what we want because that would seem too pushy. We don’t talk about our accomplishments because that would seem too self-serving. We even dismiss ourselves first before others do ( “I’m not the best person to address this, but…”).

One of the most consistent findings I have found working, particularly with women of color and immigrants, is the notion of the Lost Voice or Feeling Invisible. Regardless of race or socio-economic background, the language sounds like: “I know more than the next person, but I get ignored,” or “It’s like I don’t have a voice or I don’t count.” The phenomenon of feeling as if we are not supposed to shine the spotlight on our achievements happens to many, men or women, resulting in a frustration when our good ideas or hard work go unrecognized, while our colleague Mr. Braggart who can barely tie his shoes without falling over gets all the praise – and the raise.

The reality is: if you want it, you have to ask for it. There are not going to be many moments in life where the Sample Lady will force you to eat free food. More likely than not, you’re going to have to be the one doing the asking. People can’t read your mind, and they won’t know all your accomplishments. Asking for what you want or being proud of your achievements is not being arrogant.

  • Honor those who have helped you along the way, i.e., “I graduated summa cum laude from X College – but it wasn’t without the support of my parents and professors.”
  • Keep your sense of humor, i.e., “I increased sales by 20% in six months. It wasn’t easy, but we were so successful that the president of the company warned us that if we grew any faster, I’d have to move my bed into my office!”
  • Maintain your humility – without sacrificing your pride, i.e., “I don’t like to talk about my achievements too much. I feel like I’m just doing my best, but I admit that I am proud of the fact that I helped to avert a $200,000 loss.”
  • Focus on the team, but not ignoring your role, i.e., “It was certainly a team effort. I was very fortunate to lead a team of dedicated and passionate individuals.”
  • Offer your opinion without taking away from others: i.e., “Thank you for your thoughts – your input really helps to put this into perspective. Given my experience, however, this wouldn’t apply in this situation and this is why.”

No one is going to memorize your CV or the wonderful things you have done – especially if you don’t tell anyone. Being proud of your achievements or being forthcoming in what you want (i.e. that raise) can be done and should be done in a manner that maintains your humility, honors those who have supported you, and keeps the bigger picture in mind.

Finding your voice and working through feeling invisible takes practice and constant reminding. Finding your voice is often uncomfortable when you first begin. But the more you do it, the more you realize that indeed, if you want it, you need to ask for it.