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Quit These Bad Habits If You Want to Get Ahead at Work

Updated on April 8, 2017
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Sally Hayes is a business communications coach who teaches speaking and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

If you want to get ahead at work, it's time to do a thorough review of both your good work habits and the bad habits that could be holding you back. Do any of these personality traits ring true for you?

Don't trip on bad habits that you can easily avoid.

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

If you work hard and put your best foot forward at work everyday, 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 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 communications 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

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.

If you want to know what bullying and harassment in the workplace looks like and the negative consequences it can have on morale, read How to Deal with Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace. You’ll get a glimpse into why gossip is so harmful in the workplace.

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

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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 nudge 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 read 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.

If you are afraid that speaking up and disagreeing with your boss might get you fired for insubordination, read How to Disagree with Your Boss without Getting Fired.

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

Not accepting praise and 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 under-appreciated 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 to not 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 judgement. Now, if you think unconsciously telling your boss he or she has bad judgement 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.

Which of these bad habits do you need to work on the most?

See results

© 2016 Sally Hayes


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  • Lipnancy profile image

    Nancy Yager 22 months ago from Hamburg, New York

    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.