8 Bad Habits That Quietly Kill Your Chances of Promotion

Image Credit: Typing On A Computer by StartupStockPhotos (Pixabay.com)

Image Credit: Typing On A Computer by StartupStockPhotos (Pixabay.com)

Are your habits at world holding you back?

The key word is quietly. You may not realize how your habits – those daily actions (or inactions) – are holding you back. Newly hired professionals may have bad habits from their student days. Older professionals may have created habits to suit a specific manager. According to scientific research reported at Science Daily, habits account for 40% of our daily activities. Researchers have identified two modes of thinking: our intentional mind (where we make a choice and then follow through) and our habitual mind: “when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness.”

Your habits, good and bad, are shaping your performance at work. Let’s start by eliminating these 8 career killing bad habits.

Laying the Foundation: Are You A Professional?

These five bad habits collectively mark you as unprofessional. Any one of these bad habits will make it harder to build a good reputation. Keep in mind the definition of habits: “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”

1. Lateness

Film maker Woody Allen famously remarked that “80% of success is showing up.” The foundation of showing up is bring there on time. Failing to be punctual hurts your chances of promotion in three ways.

  • Disrespect. Walking on late signals a lack of respect for everyone. You need allies to be promoted. Disrespectful behaviour will eventually cost you allies.
  • Information gap. Late arrival means you are likely to miss two types of information. First, you will miss the informal pre-meeting discussions where trends and news are shared. Second, you will miss part of the meeting’s formal agenda. Interrupting the meeting and demanding to be briefed only exacerbates the disrespect problem.

Habit solution: aim to arrive 3-5 minutes early to your next five meetings.

2. Abusive language

The words you use matter. Consider the fact that accountants, lawyers and physicians all specialized language. Such knowledge is part of what marks them out as professionals. In contrast, abusive language reveals you to be unprofessional. Abusive language takes several forms:

  • Cursing. All the words that are banned from television? Those should not be heard at the office. If the temptation comes on you, count to ten silently. That tactic will help you get through the moment.
  • Character attacks. Remember the rule to “assume positive intent?” That means assuming people are seeking to do well. Calling done a liar or lazy is rarely helpful.

Habit solution. Cultivate the positive comment habit. Leadership author and entrepreneur John C Maxwell makes a habit of making a positive comment to team members within a minute of seeing them.

3. Fighting for a fiefdom

Building your own empire within a larger organization has long been a risky strategy. This practice does yield some benefits in the short term. You can create loyal lieutenants by rewarding them. You can overcome your enemies. However, focus on fiefdom building outs you at odds with the organization as a whole. Consider these other fiefdom problems:

  • Information flow. By building a fiefdom, you will spend less time on seeking out information about activity in the rest of the organization.
  • Disconnect from strategy. Empire builders are likely perceived as ignoring the company’s big picture strategy. Before long it will be clear that you are not a team player. Your fiefdom (and you, by extension) are likely to be perceived as irrelevant

Improvement tip. Look for at least one corporate project to support in the coming year that is connected to the company’s strategy. If you company strategy emphasizes community, then lead a volunteer day at a local charity. Such actions demonstrate you are concerned about broader issues and problems.

4. No tracking and organization system

Forgetting tasks, details and appointments may be taken for granted with students or those at early career stages. Once you are seeking a significant promotion such as your first management role, such activity will raise questions. If senior management perceives you as incapable of handling your current load, then they will be reluctant to assign greater responsibility to you. This bad habit hurts you in the following ways

  • Increased stress and discomfort. When you frequently forget tasks and assignments, life becomes more stressful and unpleasant surprises become a way of life.
  • Mental fog. When you have no tracking system in place, it is easy to drift into a mental fog of confusion and short term “what’s hot right now?” work. A long term mental fog makes it difficult to focus on the important.

I recommend Leading Yourself With Getting Things Done to put an organization system in place.

Communication Habits

According to the Project Management Institute’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession report, ” 55% of project managers agree that effective communications to all stakeholders is the most critical success factor in project management.”

5. Relying on One Communication Method (e.g. Do You Only Use Email?)

As the old saying goes, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Many organizations have developed an “email culture” where nearly all communication happens over email. Using any one tool to the exclusion of others will hold you back. Here are two other communication methods to master in order to win a promotion.

  • Phone Meetings. This communication method is often a great approach for problem solving rather than sending emails back and forth. Once a solution is developed, the decision and results can be summarized by email.
  • Presentations. Delivering a presentation to a group of people is a key skill that executives and senior managers use every day. For inspiration on the power of great presentations, I suggest viewing the most popular TED talks of all time (Dan Pink’s “The puzzle of motivation” is one of my favorites).

6. Weak Listening Skills

Listening skills are one of the most underrated areas of communication. Many of us are so eager to share our ideas that we forget the other side. As you lead projects and get work done with other people, listening skills are vital to develop. Here are two tips to improve your listening.

  • Look At The Speaker. When you are interacting with someone in person, focus on them while they speak. For added benefit, you may adjust your chair or lean in their direction.
  • Take Notes. Taking down a few key points as a person speaks shows you value what they are saying. Relying on your memory and having to follow up to be briefed is less professional.

7. Failure to “Speak Their Language” With Different People

Some project managers fail because they cannot connect with executives and other important people on their project. A failure to speak in “their language” is often at fault. Use these two tips to better align your language with the people you work with.

  • Use results language. Asking an executive to understand each and every change request usually doesn’t make sense. Instead, focus your communication on results they care about. For example, “Project A will make our customers happier because it reduces shipping time which is the number one complaint we receive.”
  • Reduce jargon to a minimum. As project management professionals, we have a great deal of specialized knowledge. However, much of that knowledge and specialized concepts only confuse the other person. As a general rule of thumb, reduce technology and project management jargon as much as possible.

8. Unclear Business Writing

Bad writing is frustrating. Bad writing slows everyone down. Improving your writing is a challenge. In fact, you could start a summer project at work to sharpen your business writing skills. Start by using these tips to improve.

  • Direct Requests. Do you want someone to do something? Make a direct request. Hints and indirect requests are harder to understand and less likely to be acted on.

Further Reading

When I flip through books at the bookstore, I often go directly to the “further reading” section at the back. I’m always curious to see what resources the author recommends to readers. In that spirit, I’m going to share a few resources with you. There’s a growing number of researchers and authors have explained how habits work.

  • “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. This was the first book I read about habits
  • “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” by Gretchen Rubin.
  • BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits Program. Starting doesn’t have to be frustrating. The Tiny Habits program helped me to standardize my flossing habit and make other improvements.

Question & Action:

What bad habits have you seen in the workplace? If you could change only one habit this week, what would you change?

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9 thoughts on “8 Bad Habits That Quietly Kill Your Chances of Promotion

  1. thanks for a great article. I will definitely try to improve my listening skills after reading this. The books you recommend always makes a good read. after listening to your webinar on Projectmanagement.com I read two books last week (Rich dad Poor dad and who moved my cheese ). I liked both of them. thanks once again for trying to improve the life of others..

  2. Great read, Bruce. I especially like the one about listening. How many times have I been in a meeting and someone is typing away on their laptop – drives me crazy. It’s not only rude to the person running the meeting but really speaks volumes about how much the person values time.

    Power of Habit was a fantastic book – mind boggling how much is just automated by our brain!

    • Rebecca, thanks for visiting and reading. Agreed about “The Power of Habit.” I only wish the author had referenced “Tiny Habits” – it is a great program to build habits, one tiny step at a time.

  3. I’ve personally found that not having an organizing system is probably the biggest hindrance of all. After all, at some point you’re going to break down without such a system and any promotion usually involves MORE responsibilities, MORE management and required such a system.

  4. Hello Bruce. Great article! Thanks for taking the time to help all of us improve our work styles. You mention business writing. I’d like to add that proper spelling and grammar also go a long way in conveying a professional image.