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Want to Be Taken Seriously at Work? Stop Doing These Things

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Being taken seriously is important for young professionals. Working with colleagues who are older or more experienced means you often have to prove yourself.

Millennials already have a reputation for being immature, lazy and entitled. We have to fight against those stereotypes every day, so certain bad habits are more than just an annoyance; they are holding us all back.

Here’s what you should stop doing if you truly want to be taken seriously at work:

Watch the way you speak

I once overheard a co-worker say, “I have a widdle question.” Now that phrase is the first thing I think of every time I see her. She is a smart woman and a capable worker, but the baby talk is forever branded in my mind. So, unless you actually work with babies, using infantile language will take away all of your authority.

Baby talk isn’t the only language culprit. Pay attention to the way you speak and figure out whether you’re making any verbal faux pas. For example, using the word “like” incessantly can dilute your message and make you seem less intelligent. (Like, this sentence is, like, not as easy to read because, like, I keep stopping the flow of the words by adding words that are not, like, you know, necessary.) Breaking your bad speaking habits will make it much easier to establish yourself as a professional.

Never play dumb

Dumbing yourself down is a terrible move, both professionally and personally. Sometimes we play dumb in an attempt to make those around us feel smarter, but lowering your intelligence is not the way to boost someone’s self-esteem. You are not doing the other person or yourself any favors by pretending you’re less intelligent than you really are.

A former boss once told me that playing dumb is just part of the corporate world. Don’t buy into that. Companies aren’t looking for empty-headed employees. And, if they are, do you really want to work there? You don’t want to be a know-it-all or the person who always gets the last word, but having ideas and opinions is a good thing.

Don’t treat your cubicle like a dorm room

Your professional image is built on many factors, from your work ethic and interpersonal skills to your wardrobe and cubicle walls. Since you will spend so many hours in your workspace, adding personal touches to your cubicle can improve your mood. However, there is a big difference between a few homey touches and making yourself totally at home.

Tasteful photos of your family are appropriate. Pictures of a shirtless Channing Tatum or Kate Upton in a bikini are not.

And décor is not the only factor that can make you look unprofessional. Throwing your belongings all over the place, letting your stuff overtake a co-worker’s desk or leaving dirty dishes out are behaviors that will make your peers lose respect for you. No one wants to have a meeting at a desk covered in Cheetos crumbs.

Stop using text language

Professional correspondence should not read like a text message. Whether you are contacting a coworker or client, you should use proper English. Abbreviations and other slang can make you look silly and alienate readers who are unfamiliar with the phrase. Your work emails represent not only you, but your company, so don’t pepper them with “lol”s or “smh”s. Besides, the reader doesn’t need to know you are laughing or shaking your head. Who cares?

Eliminating slang and text message vernacular extends to conversations and presentations as well. Your proposal is not going to carry the same weight if you start the pitch with, “Aight, peeps, here’s whassup.” Even if you are saying it ironically, you will seem immature. You don’t have to sound pretentious; just be work appropriate.

Credibility is so important when it comes to moving up the ladder. Don’t let thoughtless habits hold you back. Remember, your workplace shenanigans can give all young professionals a bad reputation. Let’s break the negative stereotypes. Be yourself, but be professional.

Erin Palmer works as a writer and editor with New England College Online Business Administration Degree Programs. She writes about career and education tips for the emerging business professionals of the Millennial generation. Erin can be reached on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer.

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Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

The way you communicate really is often tied to your credibility. When you're starting out in your career, it's very important to speak articulately and in a professional way. Great points!

I agree that women often undermine themselves professionally with body language or speech patterns. These are great tips on what to watch out for.

I would add making inappropriate jokes to this list - even if it's with colleagues with whom you have a close relationship, it can make alarm bells go off in their minds as to whether you'll modulate your comments with other audiences.

Brenda Storer
Brenda Storer

I still struggle with "like". I didn't really realize that I still say it as much as I do until I recently watched a video of myself speaking. It was an insightful (and terrifying) way to help me see where I can improve how I present myself.

Elana Gross
Elana Gross

This is a fantastic resource. I would also add that you should be super careful what you write over email (and gchat) - if you wouldn't want your boss to walk by and read it you shouldn't be typing it!

Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

Watching videos or listening to recordings of yourself is a great way to pick up on verbal crutches! When I started vlogging, I noticed that I said "like" a ton too.

I love these tips! I'm in my first "real world job," and learning to be aware of these things is really important!

I totally agree. There is a fine balance between having a great relationship with team mates and crossing a line which is hard to undo.

These are great tips on how to act in the workplace, especially for young women right out of college. I will have to remember these for my first job. Thanks Levo!

These are great tips and easy to follow.

I'm so glad this issue is being brought up-- Your speech habits, especially phrases, may have their place with galpals but don't in the office. I remember the first time I said "shut up" to my boss [albeit about something exciting of course], I was so horrified at my mistake.

I still struggle with "up talk" - raising your voice at the end of a sentence as if you're asking a question when you're not. This frequently undermines women's credibility. Great tip someone taught me: dilute your favorite drink with water and bring it to work meetings. Every time you catch yourself making a communication faux pas take a sip. No one at the table will know you're training yourself to tighten up your communication.


Ahh some of these are so easy to fall into! Especially the office/dorm room one!

These are great tips! I especially like the cubical one. I like that people bring their personailty to their space, but sometimes people can go a little over the top. It can be distracting.

I really appreciate the maturity this article encourages! Your work product itself is a portion of what you will be known for in the work place, so how you act/dress/speak/e-mail/etc are SO important and are often overlooked!

These things can definitely slip under the radar if you're used to working at a young start-up or creative ad agency. I wold agree with Nicholas on leaving the inappropriate jokes at home. I would also add to eliminating swear-words from your work vocabulary. I think some people use it to seem laid-back/cool but it usually comes off as abrasive and crass and the more you get used to that type of language, the greater possibility it will slip into more important work conversations.

Save the (adorable) yoga puppies calendar for your home not your office!

Agreed! It's difficult to keep personal clutter out of my workspace - work life integration at its finest.

On the flip side of this, a brilliant colleague encouraged me to sign up for a word of the day email newsletter, and to incorporate the words in my conversations at work at least 3x a week. A good vocabulary, or even just popping a great word in here or there, does wonders for the way others perceive you!

Great reminder of how women can often be our own worse enemies to ourselves just by the nuance of language and seemingly minor behavioral faux paus we commit.

I came across another great pointer in Kate White's "I Shouldn't Be Telling You This." She was discussing ways to stand out and be valuable in meetings: "avoid a lot of warm up with your actual idea." Get to the point! Your idea is more likely to be heard, remembered, and acted upon when you state it clearly and concisely, than if it is buried within a long story or unnecessary details for that time.

I love these tips! Another great one a former boss told me is to never end statements/presentations with "Does that make sense?" because it makes people seem insecure about their work and made anything positive that came before the question less significant. I will definitely by sharing this article around with friends/coworkers - thanks!

Totally agree your idea is much more likely to be heard if you are too the point and direct! I find that I often subconsciously try to soften my message with small talk before just getting to the point. Working on it!

Regardless of what field you are in, how you communicate is something your peers and managers will judge you on. I've recently started to work on speaking slower to ensure that I am not over using "umm" and "like" not only at work but with friends too.

The comments about your professional space cannot be emphasized enough. What happens when your boss walks by and sees your space? What does your visual representation say about the type of work you do? Think about how you walk into an office and what you expect of a professional. Now, go into your own space and see if it reflects the type of professional that you want to be considered.

Articles like these are always good reminders. You think it's common sense, but it's easy to forget some of these tips, especially when you work in a young casual environment. Obviously, the rules are different at a start up with a bunch of 20somethings vs. a more corporate environment, but I believe that the basic advice in this article applies to everyone.

Great suggestions!


I LOVE this article! I am constantly thinking before I speak because I have a bad habit of saying the word "like", a lot. I also love the point about the office decorations. No shirtless Channing Tatum until you get home! -Janelle

That's a great idea.

As someone who studied speech, I completely understand, Brenda. The greatest advice I could give, is to think before you speak. Truly think of the words you want to say, and condense them into a shorter, more direct sentence. In a professional setting, I have noticed men are much more attentive when a woman can speak in a more direct way.

Erin Palmer
Erin Palmer

Wow! I just saw that my Brazen post was featured here and I am so pleased to see all of the amazing comments and interaction. There are SO many additional points in this comment thread. Whitley's point about not ending a presentation with "Does this make sense?" is one that I have been guilty of in the past. I have been working to eliminate the word "like" as a crutch too. Thanks to you all for reading and contributing so many smart ideas.

Jina G
Jina G


Jina G
Jina G


I'd like to add that taking initiative and demonstrating you're capable of being a problem-solver, not a problem-creator, is hugely important! I often struggle with conveying this properly to interns, but it's vital to being taken seriously as a professional. If you're having trouble with something, at least try to figure it out yourself. Even if you can't, or if you think you might have but you're still in doubt, it's much better to come to your supervisor with a question that begins with the words "I've tried X, Y, and Z, but I'm still having trouble with this task...", as opposed to asking to have your hand held through everything. Supervisors, in turn, should help their staff become part of the solution, not part of the problem, and should convey this politely but firmly, because it's really a two-way street.

Keeping my desk clean is why I prefer not to eat at it expects for small snacks. I never understood why people do not take advantage of break room if it is avaiable.

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