Terence H Clarke

Habits that Hurt Your Career and How to Overcome Them

It’s easy to fall into patterns of behaviour that seem to serve us well, but can ultimately hold us back. When it comes to our careers, these habits can be especially detrimental. The good news is that by recognizing these habits and actively working to overcome them, we can build the skills and traits that lead to success.

According to research by psychologists Eric Nelson and Robert Hogan, dysfunctional habits can interfere with a leader’s ability to build and maintain high-performing teams. This tracks with what many of us have experienced firsthand: setbacks in our careers are rarely the result of something we’re doing well.

Tomas Chamorro Premuzic, a psychologist and professor at University College London, has identified several “dark-side” personality traits that can make workers and managers less effective. But beyond these traits, there are specific behaviours or habits that can hinder our progress, even if they once served us well.

Derailers, as these habits are sometimes called, start in the limbic system of the brain – the emotional centre that triggers a fight-or-flight response when we feel threatened. This can make it difficult to break out of these patterns, but emotionally intelligent leaders are able to recognize their triggers and control their responses.

Here are three common derailers that can hurt your career and how to overcome them:

1.Conflict avoidance. This habit isn’t just about avoiding difficult discussions, although that’s certainly part of it. At its core, conflict avoidance uses escape or intimidation to mask insecurities and avoid having our fears, uncertainties, or mistakes exposed.

For example, a manager who avoids conflict might alienate their team members, leading to poor performance and even team members quitting. To overcome conflict avoidance, start by recognizing it as a fear and a derailer. Seek advice on how to confront the issue, and write down a plan to respond to the situation directly and in person. Consider offering support through additional coaching and training or reevaluating the manager’s role within the team.

2.Impulsiveness. This derailer might include unpredictable emotional responses, such as anger and frustration, or going after the new, shiny idea without vetting it. It’s a habit that can cause you to lose relationships, support, and buy-in from others.

For example, a manager who is impulsive might hurt the feelings of their direct reports or disrupt the team by pursuing a new idea without considering the potential consequences. To overcome impulsiveness, take time to reflect on previous knowledge, successes, and failures. Ask problem questions to anticipate consequences and consider how your actions will be perceived by others inside and outside of the organization.

3.Blame-shifting. This is the most common derailer in the corporate world and is the number-one cause of poor problem-solving and a lack of innovation. Blame shifters exaggerate the negative, feel like victims, and pass the buck to colleagues, different departments or managers.

For example, a leader who engages in blame-shifting might claim ignorance or blame others for problems in their department. To overcome this habit, call out the assumptions that enable it, such as the belief that you or your team did everything you could and are therefore not responsible for an outcome. Take responsibility for your actions and collaborate with others to find solutions.

By recognizing and actively working to overcome these derailers, we can build the skills and traits that lead to success in our careers. Whether it’s through seeking advice, reflecting on our actions, or collaborating with others, we can break free from these habits and achieve our goals.

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