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On corporate ladder, fear strikes out

You know the quality of your work rocks. Your boss knows the same thing. So why don't you get a promotion? Why do you think people don't take you seriously? Why does no one ask you to join in on that excellent project? Could be you're . . . a wimp.

Mark Ostrowski, a senior vice president at Manchester Inc., a workplace consulting company, likens the workplace to (ahem) war.

During wartime, he said, "most people's feeling is to get down and protect themselves. Which is the worst thing a person can do. Because if you do that, the enemy will run rampant."

He points out that many workers, especially young ones just breaking in, feel more at ease hiding behind the computer, doing their work and avoiding conflict, confrontation or even just a conversation about their Great New Idea.

It's hard to get over innate shyness, or the intimidation factor, especially if you're not used to the workplace. But in most cases, you have to get past that passiveness or shyness if you expect ever to be tapped for more exciting opportunities.

Barbara Pachter, a Cherry Hill, N.J., career coach and author of the book The Power of Positive Confrontation, thinks most people were never taught how to be both polite and powerful. Because of that, she said, we can be walked on.

She has recommendations to make her readers and her clients at least appear powerful. The real thing will follow. A few things to remember:

+ Cut out words like "kinda" and "sorta" and "maybe." Because, you know, um, if you use those words, you kinda sound sorta like you don't really believe in what you're saying. Maybe.

"These are extra words that are added to sentences that can make even the smartest person sound tentative and unsure," she said.

+ Don't speak too softly. You can become invisible and easy to overlook.

+ Try not to stand passively, slouching with your arms folded over your chest. You won't look confident or professional.

"People don't realize they're doing it," Pachter said. "And they don't understand the response they get back. You put them together and you create this passive pattern."

It may seem silly at first to listen to tips like these, but watch someone at work whom you admire and want to emulate. He or she probably seems confident and ready to take on the world. With arms uncrossed.