Articles > Career killers: behaviour to change

Career killers: behaviour to change
Globe & Mail, July 15, 2005

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

How many times have you gone on and on about yourself, ignoring it when your conversational partner's eyes began to glaze over? Or talked so much that the person you were conversing with couldn't get a word in edgewise?

These kinds of behaviour can be irritating to others -- so insufferable, in fact, that they can become career killers.

Don't want to end up there? Then you may have some work to do. But first, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. If you can admit to such behaviour, even modest change will reap significant rewards in your dealings with your boss, clients, staff, co-workers, your network and friends.

Here are 10 examples of egregious behaviour -- and what you can do to change them.


Your talk is completely self-focused. When someone tries to change the topic, you bring it back to yourself. You tell people way more than they care to hear about your work and personal life but aren't particularly interested in others' feelings and experiences.

Most self-absorbed people, suffering from delusions of self-admiration, don't tend to recognize themselves.

One way to find out if you're guilty of such behaviour: ask someone you trust. If the verdict is affirmative, take action.

Monitor the balance in air time between yourself and your conversational partners. Before sharing another story about yourself, ask: "Why would this person care?" Then show interest in the lives of others by asking them questions about themselves.

Monitor verbal and non-verbal cues. Are they attentive when you are talking? Do they make eye contact? Or ask for more information?


You have an insatiable need for positive feedback. If someone offers you a compliment, you fish for more. If nobody says anything about your work, you bring it up. You always press for more details. You think your boss doesn't pat you on the back often enough, even though she's told you she thinks you are drowning in feedback.

Take a hint. Ask yourself honestly whether you are getting a normal level of feedback but just not hearing it or needlessly needing more.

If the feedback gap is in your mind, ask yourself why you are so dependent on the approval of others to feel good about yourself. Could it be that you don't give yourself enough feedback?

When you start to feel needy, take stock of your accomplishments. And remind yourself that your boss is very busy -- and no feedback can be good feedback. After all, if there was a problem, you'd hear about it. Remember, too, that today's workplace places a premium on self-management.


What you say and how you say it is not very engaging. You love to tell old war stories or personal experiences that are of no consequence to anyone else. You go on in an endless monotone. You don't check to see if anybody is really listening.

How can you know if you are boring? How about when your audience does not probe for more information, or people look distracted when you are talking.

Some ways to remove your boredom factor: Inject cadence into your voice. Use adjectives. Make eye contact. Before sharing something, pause to ask why someone would be interested in hearing it. Watch for the signs and cut short your presentation. And perk things up by asking people questions about themselves.


You operate by rote: focused on the task, deliberate and cautious, guarded in what you tell others, not sharing your feelings. Nobody would accuse you of being too expressive or spontaneous. Your fašade is so perfect that no one can see the real human being behind it.

Bad idea. People want to make a human connection, not relate to a robot. Such a stick-up-your-butt demeanour doesn't give you more points as a professional, it pushes people away.

To fix such behaviour, start by smiling. Tell a personal anecdote, even a story that shows personal weakness. Inquire about others' well-being -- and sound like you mean it. Force yourself to do something spontaneous and completely out of character.


You have many strong opinions on many matters. Others may see you as rigid and uncompromising: Once you have made up your mind, it is hard for you to be persuaded to think differently. You are intolerant of different ways of looking at an issue, and less interested in hearing both sides of an argument than in rushing to judgment. People have said you only see black and white, not grey.

What to do? Before assuming something is true, ask yourself how you really know, what evidence beyond your own experience you bring to bear.

Then soften how you come across. Instead of using phrases like '"you should" or "you need to," say "one of the things you may want to consider is. . ." Introduce words and phrases like "umm" and "I need to think about this."

People will listen harder and respect you more if you sound more tentative, and less dogmatic.

Deflecting responsibility

You tell long, involved stories to drown people in detail about how something is not your fault. You use sleight of hand with dates, names, anything to obscure what you did and why it didn't work out. You spin all accounts to put yourself in a favourable light. You blame others.

Understand the impact of such behaviour: You alienate your co-workers. People will not trust or want to work with you.

It is far better to admit to a mistake than to shake it off. In fact, you get brownie points for acknowledging it. Nobody is perfect. Make statements like "in hindsight, I think it would have been better if I had. . ." Or "I'm sorry, I am responsible for this." Then stop. Refrain from explaining away what happened by blaming others or drowning listeners in a blow-by-blow description.


You miss the nuances of delicate situations, barging in where others would back away. You cannot read and interpret non-verbal cues or subtleties of language.

As a result, you have gotten yourself into hot water on several occasions.

Before opening your mouth, ask yourself whether there is more going on than is being said.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of the other person and ask how you would be feeling under such circumstances. Behave accordingly.

Insensitivity to others

You ask for a vacation right in the middle of an important project with a demanding deadline.

You complain that your boss doesn't respect work/life balance when, for the first time in a year, she schedules a meeting at 8 a.m.

Step back. Remember that you are not the only person who has a life, and sometimes you need to respect the needs of others.

Before asking for what you want, ask how it will impact others.

Obnoxious networker

You are pushy. You ask for a 45-minute meeting with someone you don't know, without explaining your desire to meet. You claim mutual connections on the slimmest of pretenses. You presume an intimacy where none exists.

No wonder you haven't been very successful in your networking.

Err on the side of formality. Provide a compelling reason to meet (even if it's only that the other person will have a chance to help someone).

Unless it is true, and it rarely is, do not hold out a carrot of meeting for mutual benefit. Make it easy for the other person to say yes. Ask if you can talk, on the phone or in person, for 15 minutes; if they are enjoying the conversation they will allow it to continue.

Overly self-promoting

You describe every accomplishment you make, no matter how insignificant. You name-drop. You go for every high-profile assignment. You rarely use the word "we." Team? What team?

Cut down the references to yourself by 50 per cent. Stop dropping names. Give credit where it is due. Share a personal anecdote, or admit to a personal weakness: You are more than your work accomplishments. You are a human being. And people will like you more if you act like one.