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Special section 6 ways to get ahead in the office or get out

If you're tired of getting treated like a young whippersnapper at work, learn to get their attention -- professionally and with style.

Moving up the ladder

Working your butt off, but still not getting respect at the office? Are your million-dollar ideas getting shot down like ducks at a shooting gallery? Or even worse, are you being ignored? You could be sabotaging your message before you even complete your first sentence. Learn to come across as competent and professional before you open your mouth by projecting the right image and behavior.

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If you are struggling to get positive notice for your great ideas and your hard work, your image could be the culprit. How others perceive you counts for a lot in the world of work. When you have something to say, within 60 seconds, your listeners have already formed opinions about you and the quality of your ideas -- and you might not be finished talking yet. If you're contradicting your message, those brilliant ideas will get lost on their way to your audience's ears.

Image still is something
You can give credence to the work you do if you look the part. Take the time to decide how you want to be perceived, says Anne Warfield, president of Impression Management Professionals in Minneapolis. She suggests, "Critically look at your wardrobe. See if it matches the perception you want." She discusses this sort of self-appraisal in her book "Outcome Thinking."

The proper "uniform" for your job depends on your industry and your particular company. The most obvious example is the finance world where professionals are expected to be trustworthy and serious since they're dealing with people's money -- therefore conservative dress is appropriate. In contrast, the computer industry helped begin and spread the concept of casual day everyday. Someone in a three-piece suit wouldn't fit in with a bunch of long-haired geek programmers who proudly work 90 hours a week.

Attention to detail can count for more than expensive threads. Whether your industry demands white shirts with ties or allows Hawaiian shirts, taking an iron to that shirt can make all the difference in a client's or a boss's first 60-second impression of you.

Don't let your body betray you
Even if you dress the part of a professional, you still might not be there. Warfield explains that 65 percent to 95 percent of your message is read through body language and voice intonation. She explains, "A lot of the time, the words, body language and image don't fit together." To be taken seriously, you'll want to make sure your body language matches the message you are trying to send about the quality of your work.

You want body language that exudes competence and confidence. In other words, your crabby old teacher was right: Stand up straight. Besides slouching, be aware of other undercutting and negative body language, such as nail biting, scratching your head or not looking someone in the eye. Those nervous habits can damage your chances of being taken seriously.

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