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3 Bad Habits That Could Be Holding You Back at Work

S. Davies is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky-clean and drama-free.

Don't let bad habits trip you up and derail your career.

Don't let bad habits trip you up and derail your career.

Get Ahead at Work

If you work hard and put your best foot forward at work every day, it would make sense that you'll make steady advances forward in your job and, ultimately, in your career. But these days, hard work alone is not enough to keep you moving ahead at a steady clip. These days, employers are looking for so much more.

They're looking for people with the right attitude: a winning combination of solid emotional boundaries, strong self-confidence, and impeccable communication skills.

Here are some common behaviors and attitudes that could be standing between you and steady progress up the career ladder.

Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.

— Socrates

Bad Habit #1: Gossiping

Talking about other people without including them in the conversation is one of the worst bad habits you could have at work. What’s the difference between a bit of water-cooler chit-chat and harmful office gossip? How do you know if you are a gossip? Here’s a test: The next time you are talking to someone at work in a casual manner, and someone else’s name comes up in the conversation, ask yourself how you would feel if you turned around and found them standing behind you? If you’d be embarrassed that the person heard you, then you’ve been gossiping. Quit this bad habit right away because it will hurt your career. It could even hit you in the pocketbook if you get taken to court for harassment and slander.

When it comes to getting rid of bad habits, whether at work or home, there is something that you can do to improve your chances of success replace the bad habit with a good habit. In the case of gossiping, the good habit that you can replace it with is to find something nice to say about each person in your office, even the people that sometimes drive you crazy. You can either say the nice thing directly to the person, as long as it is sincere and truthful, or you could simply hold the thought in your head for a moment the next time you feel the urge to start sniping about the other person.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Bad Habit #2: Not Speaking Up

Remember in school—high school or college—when your teachers and instructors would include class participation in your final grade? Even if it was just 5% of your overall grade at the end of the semester, getting a 5% boost could mean the difference between getting an average GPA or being nudged up to an above-average GPA. Well, in the school of life, participation at work is just as important to your career as it was when you were in college.

If you are afraid of speaking up at work because you’re afraid you might create a conflict with a co-worker, you can read articles or a book about how to deal with conflict in the workplace. That way, instead of trying to avoid conflict all the time, you can speak up confidently, knowing that if you do inadvertently upset someone, you’ll have the skills to resolve the conflict.

Do you participate fully in staff meetings and brainstorming sessions? If not, you could be holding yourself back and sabotaging your career.

Do you participate fully in staff meetings and brainstorming sessions? If not, you could be holding yourself back and sabotaging your career.

We are prepared for insults, but compliments leave us baffled.

— Mason Cooley

Bad Habit #3: Not Accepting Praise or Compliments

Many people who are unhappy at work will often cite a lack of recognition for all the hours they put in at the office, day in and day out, week after week. These people feel underappreciated and taken for granted. Yet many of these same people are unable to accept a simple compliment from a colleague—whether it be a compliment on a stylish suit they’re wearing or praise for a nicely designed annual stakeholders report. Instead of graciously saying “Thank you!” when being complimented, they’ll say something self-effacing like, “Oh, I’m out of clean laundry, so I’m wearing my business clothes today.” Or, “It didn’t take me very long to design that document. I adapted it from some other projects I worked on.”

In the first instance, you’re essentially telling the person who complimented you that wearing sharp clothes at work is not a priority. In the second instance, you’re dismissing your own efforts and giving your boss a reason not to credit you for the work you did.

Another reason not accepting praise or compliments from your boss or co-workers could be holding you back is because it’s actually an insult to reject someone’s compliment. Essentially, when you dismiss someone’s compliment, you are suggesting that they’re wrong, that they don’t know what they are talking about, and that they have poor judgment. Now, if you think unconsciously telling your boss they have bad judgment is good for your career, think again. False modesty and excessive humility are not great characteristics when you’re trying to get ahead at work.

Are there other bad work habits that can hold you back not featured here? Leave a comment or suggestion for other bad habits that people should avoid if they want to get ahead at work.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 S Davies


Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on March 07, 2016:

Never had a problem speaking up at work. I used to ask my boss, "What is it you really do anyway?". He never could answer the question.