Let’s face it: Office dynamics can be tricky.
You may think you’re doing all the right things—when it turns out you’re actually frustrating colleagues, alienating work allies and maybe even disrespecting your boss.
The possible culprit?
You’re engaging in work-related misbehaviors—and don’t even know it.
To help pinpoint some of these faux pas, we asked career experts Dr. Kristen Lee Costa, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in combating work stress, and workplace trends thought leader Ira S. Wolfe to weigh in on the most prevalent bad office behaviors that could be tarnishing your career.
Bad Behavior #1: You’re no social butterfly—and it shows.
If you rush by colleagues rather than take a moment out of your hectic day to catch up, or habitually pass on offers to go out for group lunches, you’re exhibiting the classic signs of this not-so-good habit.
In your zeal to get everything checked off your to-do list, you may be unknowingly leaving others with the impression that you’re unfriendly—and maybe even rude.
Why It Happens … “People often end up going from meeting to meeting or task to task with very little time to come up for air,” explains Costa, author of “Reset: Make the Most of Your Stress.”
So while you aren’t deliberately trying to isolate yourself, the truth is that you are creating a very real (and palpable) emotional distance between you and your colleagues when you don’t build in even a little time for socializing.
And as Costa explains, maintaining friendly working relationships isn’t just key to positive office productivity—it also dictates an organization’s success.
What to Do If This Sounds Like You … Make it a point to connect with a different colleague each week by doing something as simple as scheduling time on your calendar to take a 15-minute coffee break, suggests Wolfe, and then eventually work your way to a group lunch during a less harried workweek.
The result? Over time, you’ll be seen as more approachable—and may even make a new friend for socializing outside the confines of the office.
Bad Behavior #2: You react poorly to sudden change.
Stay the course! If you abide by this mantra to a fault—say, when you get angry if your boss asks you to do a last-minute project, or you get frustrated by having to do something someone else’s way—you could be branded as rigid and difficult.
Why It Happens … “Being [perceived as] too rigid is often due to being a ‘black-and-white’ thinker,” explains Costa. Translation: You have a hard time accepting the reality that sometimes things won’t go your way.
Wolfe offers up another common reasoning: Often, people who react badly to a new, unexpected ask—or even the mere suggestion to do something differently—are really just scared that they won’t be able to do it well.
What to Do If This Sounds Like You … If your natural response to change is to dig in your heels, try to force yourself to shift gears anyway—because, as Wolfe notes, being viewed as resistant to change could potentially cost you your job.
And if you believe your mental hurdle is rooted in uncertainty about tackling the task at hand, that’s O.K. A bit of insecurity is normal—but you can’t let it paralyze you.
So think about what would happen if you did the task wrong. If it’s something that could be easily fixed, try to push ahead. “Taking risks is part of what builds resilience, and it can teach us an incredible amount,” Costa says.
But if you’re truly scared the task is more than you can handle, “the best thing you can do is find a mentor—someone you can trust to help you learn what you need to learn,” Wolfe says.
Bad Behavior #3: You’re the office gossip.
While it can be beneficial to keep your ear to the ground about office happenings, you don’t want to be known as the person who always has the latest dirt.
With this office misbehavior, not only do you risk being perceived as untrustworthy—but, inevitably, something you said will get back to the person you said it about.
Why It Happens … Water cooler chitchat often starts off innocently as a way to bond with colleagues—but it has the potential to quickly spiral into repeat bad behavior if you habitually gossip with the wrong crowd.
What to Do If This Sounds Like You … Dial back on the dishing—stat—by shifting the discussion to a more positive place the next time someone wants to chat about the latest departmental drama.
“You want to have plenty of verbal exit strategies in your arsenal,” Costa says. “Some of my favorites: ‘Yes, that person can come off as bossy, but I also think she has a lot of leadership potential’ and ‘I understand you’re really frustrated right now, and I am happy to talk with you later, once you’ve had some time to decompress a bit.’”
You should also examine why you’re gossiping in the first place.
If you’re miffed by a colleague’s behavior or have a problem with the quality of their work, gossiping isn’t going to solve the problem.
Instead, speak to them directly about your concerns, or come up with another solution to help keep the peace—and the work on track.
Bad Behavior #4: You’re not shy about voicing your opinions.
Does the idea of getting into a good debate at work excite you? Are you always the first to chime in during meetings—and often talk over others in the room?
Well, guess what? What you believe is showing passion for your job is probably being construed as being confrontational.
“If you’re branded as being too argumentative, it will cause people to take you less seriously—even when you have a rational, legitimate gripe,” Costa says. “It leads to low trust, and as a result, people will often avoid you.”
Why This Happens … While you may believe that you’re simply making a strong point or standing up for what you believe in, other people may feel you’re challenging them—in a big way.
Bottom line: People in this camp tend not to pay enough attention to how others communicate and interact—they need to be better about picking up on social cues by doing more looking and listening and less talking.
What to Do If This Sounds Like You … A good first step is to focus on more inclusive phrasing when you’re interacting with colleagues.
For example, if you find yourself saying “you” a lot—“you haven’t scheduled enough time to do this project”—your language is likely to come off as sounding accusatory.
So try to focus on “I” or “we” phrasing instead, such as “I think that, in the time available, we could achieve the first part of this project, and then we can figure out a way to bake in more time to finish it.”
By using more “we are all in this together” phrasing, says Costa, you set the scene for a more collaborative experience.
And if you’re the kind of person who struggles to wait your turn to talk in meetings, Costa recommends writing down your thoughts first—and only jumping in with an opinion or insight when the time is right.
Bad Behavior #5: You’re the office complainer.
It’s easy to gripe about problems at work with co-workers. But what can feel like a moment of solidarity with cube-mates can quickly turn into a pattern of seeing (and sharing) only the worst things about work.
Why This Happens … According to Costa, insecurity is often the underlying reason behind chronic negativity—it’s easier to complain than to take real action to deal with a problem or obstacle at work.
“We get something out of commiserating with others,” she says. “However, this behavior can be toxic and eventually damage your reputation. It can also make you lose focus on the great people and good aspects of your work.”
What to Do If This Sounds Like You … If you’re someone who’s gotten into the habit of complaining, you should try “reframe” your mind-set, says Costa.
“Look at the positives of every project and the things that are working well, instead of what isn’t,” she explains, adding that sometimes this simple exercise can really turn things around.
And if you feel that your negativity stems from deep-seated insecurity at work, Costa suggests working on developing an excellent support system—in the form of trusted peers and mentors who can provide insight on how to tackle tough projects on the job.
Of course, this isn’t to say you can’t occasionally vent or push back on something you care about. The key is to not let your frustration or passion sabotage your success.
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