Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Become a JEDI

Chuck the fancy presentations, speak only when you have something new to say, work smart not lateto be happy and successful at work, follow the 'just excel, don't impress' (Jedi) code

The bruising nature of some workplaces has recently been highlighted by a well-circulated article on Amazon’s office culture. This piece, originally published in The New York Times, claims that employees in Amazon are encouraged to work at an unrelenting pace and to literally “climb the wall" when they hit one. We don’t know how true these claims are, but we do know, deep within our hearts, that our workplaces can be both nurturing and bruising. And one way we bruise ourselves badly in the workplace is by trying to impress others.

Many of us are constantly trying to dazzle bosses, colleagues and team members. We often speak up only to wow others, make glitzy presentations to impress them, and sometimes even dress up to impress our colleagues. Trying to impress so many people constantly is exhausting. Often, it simply does not work, which adds to our frustration. Sometimes, it may even backfire, if the person you are trying to impress thinks you are overdoing it. And most importantly, it may take the focus away from doing excellent work, which is what finally counts. This piece will tell you how to be a new JEDI—Just Excel, Don’t Impress—at work. May the force be with you.


In meetings where the boss is present, we often try to speak up to impress. There is an overarching feeling in some offices that sheer participation in such sessions is essential to making your presence felt. This is entirely incorrect, because a good boss sees through such “participation" very quickly. In addition, driven by your urge to speak, you often end up saying something mindlessly or contributing little genuine content. So don’t speak at meetings to impress others—it is tiresome and nerve-wracking for you. Speak only when you have something new to say, a fresh perspective to add to what has already been said, or when you have a genuinely new thought to contribute. Spend the rest of the time listening. Listening helps you to reflect on what is being discussed with an open mind. It helps you generate new thoughts and ideas for your work. The urge to speak and impress others sometimes shuts out the openness to listen.


In our desire to impress, we spend huge amounts of time in creating slick PowerPoint presentations, great-looking reports, and many similar types of output. Think about this deeply for a moment, and you will immediately see how wasteful this method of trying to making an impression is. Lots of colourful, animated graphs, charts and pictures, tucked away in hundreds of slides, do not really constitute meaningful content. In many cases, these trappings tend to distract from what you are really trying to say, and don’t yield the required discussions and result. Instead, if you wish to excel and deliver a really constructive presentation or report, make your points very simply. Use five slides instead of a hundred. Anything that is important can be said in a simple line or two, or through a few key data points, so don’t waste your time on all the fluff. Instead, say these two lines as powerfully as you can. That is most likely to produce results, and it will also conserve your energy.


We try to constantly impress others when we are overly caught up with ourselves as individuals, and our own desire to individually stand out. On the other hand, when we focus on contributing to the overall success of our team, we prioritize excellence in content—on doing what each of us is assigned to do, in the best possible manner. Eventually, in most professional organizations, individuals win only when the team wins. So clearly, being a great team player is the best approach, and one that has the potential to create the most win-win situations for everyone. This team approach also takes away the pressure of trying to impress others, an endeavour which always ends up dissipating a lot of valuable personal energy.


We often want to prove to our bosses and colleagues that we are always working hard, because there is always so much to be done. The best surrogate indicator of working hard is to stay late in office, just because others in the team do. By doing this, we want people to be impressed that we are willing to sacrifice our precious personal lives (that is, if we have any) to contribute to the noble corporate cause. This is nonsense, because very little meaningful professional stuff gets achieved in the late evenings in office. In addition, you end up eating assorted late-evening snacks, which is unlikely to produce impressive results on your waistline. Our advice: Work smart throughout the day. Scrupulously avoid digital distractions during office hours, because these can suck up an amazing amount of time. Focus relentlessly on the most important priority jobs, and on completing them really well. Then, pack up and go home (or for a session with friends or at the gym), at a predetermined hour. Check out how happy this makes you feel.

Harish Bhat works with the Tata group and is the author of the business best-seller book Tata Log: Eight Modern Stories From A Timeless Institution. He thinks that we often make the best impression when we don’t try to impress.

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