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LOVE DOCTOR: My career has stalled; what could I be doing wrong?

By Chris Hart | May 5th 2019

My career has stalled; what could I be doing wrong?

Hi Chris!

I’m young, single, hard working and well educated. And my career started really well. Now though, it seems to have stalled. I know I’m good at my job, but no matter how hard I try, I never seem to get promoted or selected for more senior jobs. Is it really true that there’s a glass ceiling for women at work?

Not Getting Promoted


Hi Not Getting Promoted!

Women face many ‘glass ceilings,’ but the only one that applies to you - well educated single and young - is the way men and women follow different conversational rules.

For example, male conversations are all about getting the upper hand, while women’s centre around support, connection and consensus. Men learn to keep their thoughts to themselves, while women like talking them through. Women often suggest rather than demand. But to men that feels like manipulation.

That all started in childhood. Girls want to be liked, so they learn not to boast or be bossy. Boys expect higher-status boys to boss them around, and feel pressured to look good, emphasise their successes and hide their mistakes. Wonderful practice for the world of work, because promotion often depends on what you’re perceived to have achieved rather than what actually happened.

And that’s why so few top jobs are held by women. Because women’s conversational rules affect how they’re judged on the job.

So when a woman says, ‘Please could you...’ she’s being polite. But her male boss thinks she can’t exercise authority. Male bosses feel women lack confidence, because they say ‘sorry’ more often. Men hear that as a literal apology, when it’s also just politeness. Supervisors think women who ask questions lack knowledge. While men carefully ensure their queries don’t make them look badly informed.

Boys go after what they want and only one wins. Girls try to balance each other’s needs. So women negotiate and expect men to do the same. But men simply go for what they want and assume women do likewise.

Woman often say ‘we’ because ‘I’ sounds too boastful. Whereas men often say ‘we’ about work done by their group, even though they weren’t personally involved! They’re not actually lying, but end up getting credit for more than they did.

Of course, not everyone follows these patterns, the female rules are actually very effective, and polite men often run into the same ‘glass ceiling’ as women.

So the solution isn’t to talk one way or the other. It’s to know how conversational rules work and choose the approach that works best in a particular situation.

All the best,


Hi Chris!

I have a good education, a well paying job, and my looks are passable. But no matter how much I try to reassure myself, I’m totally lacking in self-confidence. Especially when I’m talking to other people, like at work or social events. I know what to say to them, but I feel so unsure of myself that everything comes out wrong. I’m sure that’s holding me back, especially with girlfriends, but I just don’t know how to improve.

Lacking Confidence


Hi Lacking Confidence!

Self confidence comes from experience. So if your childhood home was full of family, friends and neighbours, you’ll have learned the skills of getting on with everyone.

But if that didn’t happen to you, those skills can be difficult to learn as an adult. Fortunately, there’s a great trick to get you started: faking it!

That’s not as bad as it sounds, because most people feel far less confident than they appear. They look confident because they’re faking ‘confident body language.’ So everyone thinks they’re completely relaxed. Even though they’re not.

Displaying ‘confident body language,’ means other people will instinctively feel warm towards you. Because if you act confident, people think you are confident, because that’s how confident people behave. It doesn’t matter how you’re feeling inside. And you’ll start a sort of positive feedback that will help you become the person your body language is projecting! Because your brain releases hormones to match your behaviour. So when you’re smiling, for example, your brain produces ‘happy’ hormones. ‘Feeling happy’ and a ‘happy face’ works just as well backwards as it does forwards.

The way people react well towards your ‘confident body language,’ will also raise your mood. And as you learn to control your body language, you’ll become more aware of why people react to you the way they do.

Confident body language starts with a balanced walk, shoulders square, arms swinging and head high. Stand confidently by keeping your tummy in, chest high, most of your weight on one leg and your hands relaxed on your hips - the typical ‘high-achiever’ stance. Face the person you’re talking to, and lower the pitch of your voice, because that makes you sound more authoritative. Make yourself look easy to talk to by smiling. And look them in the eye. If you find that difficult to begin with, practice by looking at their mouth instead. Or at the bridge of their nose.

And if you see someone make a positive gesture you like, copy it. Copying is a great way to learn new body language skills. And before you know it, you won’t be faking it any more. It’s all become completely natural.

All the best,


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