No matter how talented you are or what you’ve accomplished, there are certain behaviors that instantly change the way people see you and forever cast you in a negative light.
We’ve all heard of (or seen firsthand) people doing some pretty crazy things at work. Truth is, you don’t have to throw a chair through a window or quit in the middle of a presentation to cause irreparable damage to your career. There are so many things that can kill the careers of good, hard-working people. Honest mistakes often carry hard-hitting consequences.
“You can’t make the same mistake twice, the second time, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice.” - Anonymous
There doesn’t have to be a single, sickening moment when you realize that you just shoved your foot firmly in your mouth, either. Little things can add up over time and undermine your career just as much as (or more than) one huge lapse in judgment.
Self-awareness is a critical skill in the workplace. It’s the foundation of emotional intelligence, a skill set that TalentSmart research shows is responsible for 58 percent of your job performance. If you remain self-aware, these mistakes are all things that you can control before they creep up on you and damage your career.
1. Over-promising and under-delivering. It’s tempting to promise the moon to your colleagues and your clients, especially when you’re honest and hardworking and believe that you can do it. The problem is that there’s no point in creating additional pressure that can make you look bad. If you promise to do something ridiculously fast and you miss the deadline by a little bit, you’ll likely think that you did a good job because you still delivered quickly. But the moment you promise something to someone, they expect nothing less. You end up looking terrible when you fall short, which is a shame, because you could have done the same quality work in the same amount of time with great results if you’d just set up realistic expectations from the beginning. This is one of those situations where perception matters more than reality. Don’t deliberately undershoot your goals; just be realistic about the results you can deliver so that you’re certain to create expectations that you will blow out of the water.
2. Having an emotional hijacking. My company provides 360° feedback and executive coaching, and we come across far too many instances of people throwing things, screaming, making people cry, and other telltale signs of an emotional hijacking. An emotional hijacking demonstrates low emotional intelligence, and it’s an easy way to get fired. As soon as you show that level of instability, people will question whether or not you’re trustworthy and capable of keeping it together when it counts.
Exploding at anyone, regardless of how much they might “deserve it,” turns a huge amount of negative attention your way. You’ll be labeled as unstable, unapproachable, and intimidating. Controlling your emotions keeps you in the driver’s seat (something you can develop through emotional intelligence training). When you are able to control your emotions around someone who wrongs you, they end up looking bad instead of you.
3. Sucking up to your boss. Some people suck up to their boss and call it managing up, but that isn’t the case at all. Sucking up has nothing to do with a real relationship built on respect; it is sneaky and underhanded. Suck-ups try to get ahead by stroking the boss’s ego instead of earning his or her favor. That doesn’t go over well with colleagues who are trying to make it on merit. Yes, you want to bolster your relationship with your boss, but not by undermining your colleagues. That’s the key distinction here. For a boss-employee relationship to work, it has to be based on authenticity. There’s no substitute for merit.
4. Eating smelly food. Unless you happen to work on a ship, your colleagues are going to mind if you make the entire place smell like day-old fish. The general rule of thumb when it comes to food at work is, anything with an odor that might waft beyond the kitchen door should be left at home. It might seem like a minor thing, but smelly food is inconsiderate and distracting—and so easily avoidable. When something that creates discomfort for other people is so easily avoided, it tends to build resentment quickly. Your pungent lunch tells everyone that you just don’t care about them, even when you do.
5. Backstabbing. The name says it all. Stabbing your colleagues in the back, intentionally or otherwise, is a huge source of strife in the workplace. One of the most frequent forms of backstabbing is going over someone’s head to solve a problem. People typically do this in an attempt to avoid conflict, but they end up creating even more conflict as soon as the victim feels the blade. Anytime you make someone look bad in the eyes of their colleagues, it feels like a stab in the back, regardless of your intentions.
6. Negativity. Sometimes when you’re feeling negative and down, your mood can leak out and affect other people, even if you don’t intend it to. You were hired to make your boss’s and your team’s jobs easier, not harder. People who spread negativity through their department and complain about the work or other people complicate things for everyone else. If people always have to tiptoe around you so as not to dislodge that massive chip on your shoulder, they are unlikely to be willing to do it for very long.
7. Gossiping. People make themselves look terrible when they get carried away with gossiping about other people. Wallowing in talk of other people’s misdeeds or misfortunes may end up hurting their feelings if the gossip finds its way to them, but gossiping will make you look negative and spiteful every time, guaranteed.
8. Bragging. When someone hits a home run and starts gloating as they run the bases, it’s safe to assume that they haven’t hit very many home runs. On the other hand, if they hit a home run and simply run the bases, it conveys a business-as-usual mentality, which is far more intimidating to the other team. Accomplishing great things without bragging about them demonstrates the same strong mentality—it shows people that succeeding isn’t unusual to you.
9. Announcing that you hate your job. The last thing anyone wants to hear at work is someone complaining about how much they hate their job. Doing so labels you as a negative person and brings down the morale of the group. Bosses are quick to catch on to naysayers who drag down morale, and they know that there are always enthusiastic replacements waiting just around the corner.
Bringing It All Together
These behaviors may sound extreme and highly inconsiderate, but they have a tendency to sneak up on you. A gentle reminder is a great way to avoid them completely.
What other behaviors should I add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comments section, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
Want to learn more from me? Check out my book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0.