In a working world where impressions can shape perceptions and promotions, being underestimated can feel discouraging and demoralising. Underestimation often stems from biases, preconceived ideas, limited information, or a need for more awareness about an individual’s talents and capabilities.
The good news is if you’re being underestimated, you can use it to your advantage.
The fabulous writer Joan Didion wrote in her book ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’: “My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their interests. And it always does.”
Whether you’re a young professional or a seasoned veteran, leveraging the power of being underestimated can pave the way for personal and professional growth. It can also open doors to unexpected opportunities. I’ve seen that throughout my career, and yes, I’ve often been underestimated and, at times, underestimated myself.
So, instead of succumbing to the negative impact of being underestimated, rise above the limitations imposed by someone else’s perceptions, and make it work for you.
Here are seven tactics you can apply.
Tactic One – Release the pressure
When a person has high expectations placed on them, it can hold them back, particularly when the pressure to perform is exceedingly high.
In contrast, when the expectations are lower, it releases the pressure. You no longer need to worry about letting people down or disappointing their expectations of you. Instead, you purely focus on doing your best.
Tactic Two – Surprise the expectations
We all hold expectations of others, and there’s nothing better than surprising someone and surpassing their expectations.
Focus on consistently delivering results, whether it’s exceeding targets, taking on additional responsibilities, or proposing innovative solutions to work-related problems. By constantly defying expectations, you will reshape how people perceive your capabilities. The choice is in your hands.
Tactic Three – First mover advantage
When your boss, colleague or stakeholder underestimates you, they are more likely to come to a conversation with you less prepared. They won’t expect you to hold your ground, so you can more easily steer the conversation in your desired direction.
Likewise, because they think the discussion will be easy, they will be more relaxed and more likely to say things they perhaps didn’t intend to.
They may not expect you to raise the issue in the first place, and they certainly won’t expect you to initiate the negotiation or put the first offer on the table.
In a negotiation, going first can seem risky. You may worry that you are showing your cards too early or raising an issue that the other person has yet to notice. Typically, however, when you go first, you have more power in the negotiation. You frame the conversation. Set the scene. All of this works in your favour, as research proves.
Tactic Four – Elevate your skills
Be the leader of your career and take charge of the learning that interests you and takes your career in the direction you want it to head. Don’t wait for someone around you to identify what they think you need. Find what interests you.
Consider attending workshops, pursuing additional certifications, or engaging in continuous education. All efforts to deepen your understanding, expand your skillset and enhance the value you bring to your current role…or future role.
Tactic Five – Build your positioning
When we pigeonhole someone, we narrowly define their skills and talents, and that can often happen at work.
When you are underestimated, your skills and talents haven’t yet been fully articulated and, consequently, are not yet pigeonholed. This is your opportunity. Seize it and carve out your speciality at work.
Seek opportunities to showcase your unique skills and strengths. For example, volunteer for assignments requiring expertise, demonstrate initiative and highlight your creativity and ingenuity. In time, you can become the go-to person in your organisation for specific tasks or projects that align with your capabilities and career aspirations.
Tactic Six – Forge strong connections
Building a network of advocates and allies will help create the foundations to leverage your skills and communicate your value.
Collaborating with influential allies can also increase your visibility and help you access new opportunities at work. You want to have mentors and sponsors who will advocate for you with decision-makers at work.
In time, the perceived expectations of what you deliver and how you work will align with the reality of who you are and what you do.
Tactic Seven – Challenge yourself
You hold yourself back from opportunities to grow and advance when you underestimate yourself.
So, lastly, challenge yourself to ensure that it is not self-underestimation that is holding you back. If it is, you will want to shift your fixed mindset to a growth mindset to focus on what you can do rather than telling yourself what you can’t do.
As the American Author Scott Lynch suggested, “There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.”
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, the award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker. She’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.