Hidden habits could be holding you back

Not asking for help, frequently apologising or being constantly busy may not seem like big issues but they could be hindering your performance at work.

Often at work, we run on autopilot, course-correcting when we get specific feedback that requires a change of approach.

However, that sort of direct, specific and valuable feedback is dependent on the people you work with and the performance culture of your organisation.

My own experience is that the quality bar for effective feedback is low and, as a result, most of us continue with our own working practices, without someone holding that mirror up to us.

As a result, many of us exhibit behaviours day in and day out that are holding us back.

Some of these things are so subtle that you might not even realise you’re doing them. I’ve had my radar on alert for these behaviours for a while now, both in terms of my own performance and that of people in my team, and I’m seeing some common themes.

These themes aren’t the obvious things that you might have had feedback on before, but I imagine you fall victim to at least one of them.

1. Not asking for help

For some people, there is an ingrained belief that asking for help is an indication that you aren’t capable. It is linked to the idea of having a ‘fixed mindset’ (for more on this, watch Carol Dweck’s TED presentation below) and it’s a real blocker to people’s development.

Asking for help has many benefits. It draws on the strength and knowledge of others, it invites collaboration and it shows humility.

Operating with the ambition of knowing everything so you don’t need help is a career limiter.

Think about the last time you asked for help. If you’re drawing a blank you may be operating in your safety zone or it may be an indication of a confidence issue that you may need to focus on.

2. Saying sorry (a lot)

Several years ago, a mentor told me about a habit she had got into of saying ‘sorry’ every night to her team when she left the office at 5pm to pick up her children.

She received some direct feedback from a peer that this made her seem unconfident about the boundaries she had put in place.

Similarly, I have found myself falling into the ‘sorry’ trap, running from meeting to meeting or replying with it over email when my response is later than I would have liked.

Obviously, there are times when ‘sorry’ is required, but say it too much and it loses impact and indicates a lack of confidence.

Tune into how much ‘sorry’ shows up in your conversations at work or search your email sent items to see how often it shows up in what you share with others.

One of the simplest actions to take to get control of this hidden habit, is to swap ‘sorry’ for ‘thank you’. For example, in a meeting instead of ‘sorry I’m late’ try ‘thank you for your patience’.

3. Being controlled by your calendar

The all-powerful calendar is too often the master of our daily destiny.

The problem with this is that you spend your time where other people think you should be, rather than taking a step back and evaluating how your time is best spent in using your strengths to create the most impact.

There are a few actions you can take to see if you’re an unwitting victim of this habit. Look at your diary over the past few weeks and answer the following questions:

  • What percentage of meetings did you attend that other people had scheduled, versus meetings you have scheduled?
  • What percentage of meetings do you feel you genuinely added value to?
  • What percentage of meetings did you automatically accept without knowing the agenda or what your role was in attending?

Declining meetings en masse is likely to frustrate your stakeholders, but with the insight gained from the questions above you can get back some control and explain your actions.

Ask meeting organisers what input they are looking for from you, carve out time each week for activities that play to your strengths and protect that time, look again at those recurring meetings and ask yourself if you really need to be in them every week.

4. Being defined by your job title

I’ve had a few generic job titles in my career. I’ve been a project manager, a marketing manager and an innovation manager, and while there is nothing at all wrong with those jobs, the challenge is that thousands of other people also have those titles and our roles were all very different.

People leap to conclusions about who you are and what you do when you introduce yourself with your job title.

‘Hi, I’m Helen and I’m a marketing manager’ is far less inspiring than ‘hi, I’m Helen and I’m bringing transformational technology to market’. You and what you do are far more memorable than most job titles allow for.

Instead, think about the unique and compelling thing that you actually do and lead with that when you meet people and talk about your role. The more interesting you are, the more interested other people will be in you and the more traction you’ll get in your career.

5. Being blinded by busyness

Too many people wear busyness like a badge of honour. It’s not. We are all busy, no matter where we work and what we do. It’s just the nature of jobs today.

Often, people who look very busy just look out of control and that doesn’t inspire confidence from others.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I look to the senior leaders that inspire me. I don’t hear them saying ‘oh, I’m just so busy’ or see them running frantically from meeting to meeting. Instead I see composed, controlled leaders aware of their impact and their value.

Is being busy really the impression you want to lead with? Take a moment and project the characteristics you do want to be known for.

Increasing your awareness of these hidden habits will help you take control and positively influence other people’s perceptions. Indeed, taking action on them not only helps you, it creates behaviour models that inspire others to do the same, and in doing so, creates a more collaborative, honest and value-focused culture.



There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. James Steadman 12 Sep 2017

    Don’t go spreading rubbish like telling poor old Helen to say that she’s”bringing transformational technology to market”.

    There’s enough wank in the industry without having to encourage it…

  2. Francesca Brosan 14 Nov 2017

    Or, more positively, good points Helen. I think you could add the computer screen issue though. We only think we are working if we have our laptops open. It’s the sign to the office that ‘we are busy’, as you say above. So my top tip is to purposely do something different and see what happens, work with layout pads, with post it notes, or just read a book/magazine/newspaper (physical copies – an increasingly rare thing!) and make notes. Do not be cowed into thinking that looking at a screen=work.

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