Want to be known as a rockstar around your office? Here’s a tip: to really earn a stellar reputation, you can’t just do your individual tasks well. Often, you also have to master soft skills around how you speak and present yourself. But the challenge is that this workplace etiquette tends to be an unspoken rule — since you can’t exactly flip to a page in your employee handbook to read up on how to wow leadership with your communication style, for example, it’s easy to make mistakes.
To shed light on some of these common workplace faux pas, we reached out to a handful of career experts. If you’re serious about earning your colleagues’ respect and improving your standing in the office, it’s time to nip these nine bad habits in the bud.
1. Being Late
Your coworkers may understand if you show up late by a minute or two to the occasional meeting, but making tardiness a regular habit is a surefire way to lose credibility in your colleagues’ eyes.
“Being late shows a complete disrespect for the time of those around you. Even when you produce great work, it will be overshadowed by your inability to get yourself to a meeting on time,” says career coach Angela Copeland. The good news? There are plenty of ways to fix this bad habit. Copeland recommends diligently keeping track of meetings using a calendar (enabling reminders if you’re using an electronic one).
In addition, “block out time in your schedule for traveling to a meeting, and then add a few minutes… to be sure you’re able to arrive early,” Copeland says.
2. Failing to Speak Up
When you’re new to the office, early on in your career, or just a bit shy, it’s not uncommon to hold back around your coworkers. But “if you overthink comments and end up silent because you’re afraid of being wrong… you risk limiting your influence,” says Mikaela Kiner, Founder/CEO of UniquelyHR. “The problem with self-censorship and being too quiet is that it masks your intelligence. Co-workers may speculate that you are not engaged, or aren’t a team player due to your lack of participation.”
Having a hard time coming out of your shell? “Decide how many times you will speak up during the next meeting,” Kiner recommends. “Maybe start small, let’s say you plan to make three comments. Bring three post-its with you and when you have something to say, quickly jot it down then say what’s on your mind. It’s easy to measure — once your post-its have all been used, you’ve reached your goal.” Additionally, “choose someone you trust who’s in a lot of meetings with you, and share that your goal is to speak up more. If the person is your manager or the meeting facilitator, s/he can call on you when it looks like you have something to say.”
3. Running Your Mouth
While failure to speak up can damage your standing in the workplace, dominating the conversation can be just as bad.
“Too often, young and eager employees think that being vocal will make supervisors respect them more,” says Andrea Gerson, Founder of Resume Scripter. “If you fall on the more outgoing end of the spectrum, try to be more mindful and take in what your superiors are trying to teach you. Be eager to hear about how they got where they are.”
4. Using Bad Grammar
Your teachers didn’t spend all those years drilling grammatical rules into your head for no reason — “bad grammar will derail even the most promising career,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. If you struggle with the written (or spoken) word, “take a communications class or read a book on grammar. Then practice — just knowing what you should do is not enough to improve your interpersonal skills. The investment upfront is minimal and the benefits over the long term are enormous,” Cohen says.
5. Bending the Truth
Ever try and downplay a mistake you made, or tell your boss you sent an email when it’s still sitting in your inbox? You’re going to want to cut that out.
“In the moment, white lies may seem like no big deal. But, in the world of business, they can come back to bite you in a big way,” Copeland says. “If you’re in the habit of telling white lies, begin to make a note when you do it. Identify similarities or patterns and work to correct yourself in the future before they occur. When a white lie is noticed, it can ruin your entire reputation. And, why would you want to do that for something you worked so hard for?”
6. Second Guessing Yourself
Sharing great ideas and strong opinions is a good thing — downplaying or contradicting yourself afterwards, not so much. “While being humble is a terrific trait, you should take pride in your accomplishments and accept credit for what you’ve achieved. Your employer won’t take you seriously if you don’t have confidence in yourself,” Gerson says.
But if being confident is often easier said than done for you, Gerson recommends the following tip: “Make a ‘Winning’ folder in your inbox and save all the great feedback that you get. You can later review it when you have moments of doubting your capabilities.” The next time you think about second guessing yourself, hold onto these highlights to help you stay the course.
7. Making Excuses
You might think blaming a coworker for a missed deadline or confusing directions for an error in your project will save your skin, but the truth is, it reflects back poorly on you.
“Nobody likes excuse makers. Even if something’s not your fault, you should do everything in your power to fix it,” Copeland says. “If it’s your project, work to come up with solutions rather than problems. Find a way to get things done without pointing your finger at coworkers. Someone who can make things happen while not placing blame will go far.”
8. Dressing Inappropriately
Just because it looks great when you’re out on the town with your friends on the weekend, doesn’t mean it’ll work for the office. “When you dress in a manner that’s too casual at work, you will quickly lose the respect of your coworkers… Whether you’re wearing business casual in a business environment or casual in a business casual work setting, the people you’re working with are noticing. They may not verbalize that they think you look silly, but you can bet they’re thinking it,” Copeland says.
“Pay close attention to what is acceptable dress in your workplace. This is especially true when you’re changing industries, moving to a new city, or going up the corporate ladder. Each company has different expectations about what’s normal. And, many of those expectations aren’t always written down somewhere. Take the time to observe those around you and follow suit,” she suggests.
Pro tip: If you’re at all questioning whether or not an item of clothing is office appropriate, it probably isn’t.
9. Sending Cutesy Emails
Just like you don’t want your wardrobe to be too casual, you don’t want your emails to be too casual, either.
“It may be something you’ve become completely accustomed to, but too many exclamation points and happy faces will not help your corporate emails,” Copeland says. “Make a point to count the number of exclamation points you’re using in an email. If the number exceeds two, try to decide if there’s any way you can reduce the amount of punctuation.” Likewise, lay off the emojis and emoticons. “Save smiley faces for times when you’re close friends with someone,” Copeland says.
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