I have to admit: I was thrilled, though somewhat surprised, to see “risk aversion” show up on the list of top career-limiting habits a while back. It seems that risk often gets a bad rap in the workplace. But it’s an absolute necessity.
Here’s the hard truth of life: Anything that’s worthwhile is almost always a little risky. There are very few certainties in life that lead to greatness. Growth, success, accomplishment, love—these things require risk. They’re not guaranteed. In order to ever attain them, you have to step out on a limb.
Moving forward almost always means taking a leap of faith.
And I’m talking about faith in yourself.
I think the thing that really holds people back—in their career and in life—is that they don’t have that faith. They’re risk averse because somewhere along the line they stopped believing in themselves.
So they hide. They shrink back. They take the well-worn path, even when it doesn’t lead exactly where they want to go. They settle. Whether out of fear or simply laziness, they sacrifice what they could be and what they could do for what they know.
Risk aversion comes at a very high price, indeed.
That idea of sacrifice is pretty significant when it comes to risk. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice certainty, comfort and safety, you could end up losing so much more.
You sacrifice possibility. Is it worth it to you?
Risk aversion is, by its very nature, limiting—whether we’re talking about your career or anything else. When you’re able to stare risk in the eye and forge ahead, you experience limitless opportunity.
The other day, while being decidedly unproductive, I stumbled upon a little gem of a website called PassiveAgressiveNotes.com. As you might expect, it’s both laugh-out-loud funny and sadly familiar. I swear I’ve seen some of these notes before…Like the one an “anonymous” officemate left in the break room of my old office:
“Adults pick up after themselves. No one here is your mother. Please do your own dishes. Thanks!”
I think there was even a little smiley face at the bottom.
I absolutely hate these kinds of things. It’s so childish to leave a snarky note when you’re upset about something. If you don’t want to do the dishes for everyone in the office, don’t. No one is forcing you. If it’s a serious issue, call a meeting and create a cleaning schedule. If you have no other way of communicating except to make a sign, leave the insulting commentary off.
Leaving a note implying that your colleagues are acting like children only makes people feel accused. It’s like wagging your finger in their face. And, even worse, these kinds of notes are almost always left anonymously. Adding “Thanks!” and a smiley face at the end only adds insult to injury. You’re not fooling anyone into thinking it’s just a friendly heads-up message.
This is the very definition of passive aggressive. There’s an undercurrent of anger, but it’s handled in an indirect—and ineffective—way. And according to a recent survey, “passive aggressive” behavior is one of the top ten career-limiting habits, so it’s worthwhile taking a look at it.
Look, no one likes an openly aggressive person. I get it. So it’s easy to understand why people avoid confrontation and opt for veiled insults instead. But there’s a better alternative.
If you’re upset about something, address the issue face-to-face in a straightforward, professional manner. Don’t attempt to hide what you’re really feeling behind sarcasm or false politeness. Don’t hide behind your computer or an anonymous note. If you can’t say something out loud and in-person, it probably doesn’t need to be said.
It’s only natural that people will experience conflict at times in the workplace. We’re all human. Spending so much time together, we’ll inevitably find little annoyances in others. We’ll also have major disagreements and personality clashes. That’s to be expected.
When these things happen, you have two choices:
1. Let it go. If it’s something that’s not worth addressing, it should be set aside. Truly set aside. Release resentment and don’t dwell on it.
2. Address it. If it’s something that bothers you so deeply you simply can’t let it go, it must be addressed.
All too often, people try to create a third, middle option—one where they don’t let it go but they don’t address it either. Instead, they just let it fester. And that’s when passive aggressiveness rears its ugly head.
Truth be told, passive aggressiveness sometimes makes us feel better about the situation. We’ve all had that sick kind of pleasure from thinking, “Ha! I really showed him who’s boss with my snide comment. He’ll learn not to mess with me…”
But that’s counterproductive. The other person will always sense your true feelings but, without having a real, honest conversation about what’s going on, he won’t know how to fix the problem—and by that point, he won’t want to either.
The problem then snowballs and there’s a bunch of unsaid animosity that comes out in snippy emails and rude comments and eye rolling and gossip and anonymous notes. It creates a toxic environment that spreads like wildfire.
Now, I’m not saying that every little nuisance needs to be addressed. Pick your battles. But if you’re not willing and able to confront the issue head-on, there’s no backdoor route. You have to let it go. Holding on to the emotion, stifling it and letting it seep into your interactions indirectly is not the solution.
Dealing with Passive Aggressive Co-Workers
If you’re dealing with a passive aggressive person right now, I suggest opening the lines of communication. Try saying something like, “I get the feeling something is bothering you. Can we talk about it?” This might catch them off-guard just enough to get the truth out of them.
These people almost always hate confrontation, which is why they hide behind passive aggressive behavior. But hopefully you can get the problem out in the open and resolve it once and for all. Maybe you can even show them that confrontation doesn’t always have to be a horrible experience. It can actually be done in a productive and positive way.
You may have to try a few times, but eventually they’ll learn that they aren’t hiding anything. And if they want things to change, they need to be willing to just say what’s on their mind.
I’d like to admit something right off the bat: I’m a little selfish. Okay, maybe I’m a lot selfish. Sometimes, you have to be.
I’m making this bold statement today because the 8th career limiting habit we’re discussing is selfishness, and I may not be the best person to advise you on this topic. But I’ll share what I know and let you make that decision.
Here’s the deal: I believe there are two sides to this coin. Selfishness can be annoying and even dangerous in the workplace. It can also, at times, be a necessary evil.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
A selfish person tends to puts his own needs before the needs of others. As a professional, this doesn’t exactly make you the best team player. A strong team is made up of people who are willing to sacrifice their own glory for the sake of the group.
But there is a time and place for selfishness, my friends. You have to look out for yourself in this world. You deserve success. Your needs are just as important as the needs of others. You have to be willing to fight for them—or no one else will.
Finding the Balance
So it’s a delicate balance. I believe that selfishness, in the career-limiting sense, means that you’re so consumed in your own world that you’re unable to understand or work effectively within a bigger system.
But don’t confuse this for self-respect. It’s NOT selfish to know what you want from your career and go after it. It’s not selfish to be loyal to your own needs. Listen to your inner voice and do what’s right for you, even when others are pushing you in the opposite direction. Embrace your professional power. Don’t give up on your own dreams simply because someone else got there first. Don’t be content with a supporting role if you’re dying to be a star. You can fight for the success you want and deserve while still being a strong team member.
All too often, I see professionals (especially women) who sacrifice everything because they’re afraid of being selfish. They stay in jobs they hate out of loyalty for bosses who don’t respect them and companies that don’t even know they exist. They refuse to stand up and demand credit for their work when others take it from them. They hesitate when asking for a raise because they don’t want to be greedy. They refuse to promote their own strengths because they don’t want to be arrogant.
They’re afraid of shining too brightly for fear that it will somehow create darkness for others.
I want you to stand up and take what’s yours. But I also want you to play nice in the sandbox. I think it’s possible to do both. I think there’s a way to love yourself, and do what’s best for you, while also working well inside the system. It’s a matter of respect—for yourself and for the team.
The world is full of abundance. Don’t play like it’s a zero-sum game. If you win, it doesn’t necessarily mean others lose. You deserve success as much as the next guy, if you’re willing to work for it.
When I was a kid, my mom used to sing a song that went something like this:
“Lookin’ down at a hole in my sneaker…I nearly missed a rainbow…I nearly missed a sunset…”
Do you remember this song? I just discovered it was originally from an episode of Sesame Street—a Google search turned up this page with the words if you’re interested.
Anyway, I bring this up because it’s a useful concept for today’s article discussing the next career-limiting habit in our series. We’re discussing the habit of “short-term focus”—number seven on the list.
When I think of someone with short-term focus, I remember this song.
In today’s busy workplace, I know it can be easy to get sucked into the short-term, day-to-day stuff—your annoying commute, your growing to-do list, your impending deadline, etc. These things sap your mental energy from morning to night. But you simply can’t get so wrapped up in the “here and now” that you forget to lift your head and look out at the horizon once in a while.
When you’re busy looking down, that’s when things are missed.
Why Long-Term Focus Matters
Long-term focus goes hand-in-hand with “big picture perspective.” These skills allow you to understand the bigger game. Without them, you’ve got tunnel vision.
By looking up and out, you’re perspective shifts. You become more aware of the bigger needs of the organization now and in the future. You more clearly understand your role in its success.
Even more importantly, you’re able to be proactive–to actively manage what’s coming at you rather than simply reacting in the moment to what’s right in front of you. This is, in my opinion, the one skill the separates average employees from outstanding ones.
Long-term focus also helps ensure you’re better prepared for what’s next. Companies are always changing and evolving. In order to stay relevant, you must be right there with them, at every step along the way. Otherwise, you may get left behind.
How to Shift Your Gaze
Take off the blinders and stop looking down. Look up. Gaze out to the horizon. Here are a few tips to help you do so:
1. Know Your Industry
Almost every industry has a magazine, association or website where up-to-date information can be found regarding trends. Sign up or join right away. Get to know how your industry has grown in the past and where experts are predicting it will go in the future. What challenges are facing your industry? What opportunities are there? How will these things potentially impact you and your company? Stay informed.
2. Know Your Company
The same thing goes for your company. Read the company reports and newsletters. Talk to executives when you have the opportunity. Find out what challenges and opportunities are coming your way. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.
3. Know Yourself
Of course, you don’t want to neglect yourself in all of this. Long-term focus applies to your career goals as well. Where do you want to be in five years? What about ten years? How can your work today help support these goals? What opportunities or challenges may come up along the way? How can you get the most out of your current experience to enhance your opportunities and minimize your challenges?
4. “What’s Next?”
Always ask yourself this question. How does the task you’re working on today change or evolve in the future? How does it impact the next phase of the project? What can be done today to make tomorrow better, more efficient, more profitable, more successful? Look several steps ahead of where you are.
I still find myself singing that Sesame Street song once in a while. And it’s a great reminder that looking down at the road beneath your feet can mean you miss out on the big stuff happening all around you. Keep this metaphor in mind as you shift your gaze and overcome the career-limiting habit of “short-term focus.”
The other day on my free coaching call an attendee asked about how to handle someone who is disrespectful. I gave her advice regarding opening up communication and giving the person straight-forward “instructions” on how she wanted to be treated, and somewhere along the line it dawned on me: There are so many people out there who just don’t understand respect.
If you’re like me, this statement probably shocks you. I was raised to be respectful. My parents made a big deal out of it and now, as an adult, I truly recognize the important role it plays in my relationships and in my career. But sadly, not everyone is lucky enough to have parents like mine.
Since “disrespect” is the sixth career-limiting habit on our list, I figured now was a good time to go ahead and address this issue once and for all. Below, I’ll share the 4 rules I live by when it comes to respect. You can use these rules in both your personal and professional life. I promise, you and everyone with whom you interact will be glad you did.
1. The Golden Rule
Treat others how you want to be treated. They call it the “golden” rule because, if you do this and nothing else, you’ll be golden.
2. The “It’s A Small World” Rule
Now that you’ve got the world’s most annoying song in your head, let me clarify what I mean by “It’s a small world.” No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, the bubble you in which you exist is much, much smaller than you think. Because of this, you always want to treat everyone—clients, subordinates, and co-workers alike—as if they will one day be your boss…because they very well could be. You never know what might happen in the future. So think of every person you interact with as a potential future employer.
3. The “Hidden Value” Rule
Look for the good in everyone. You may not see it immediately, but I promise, it’s there. Believe that everyone provides some kind of value, even if it’s not abundantly clear on the surface. Trust that the person standing in front of you has redeeming qualities that, if you knew more about them, would inspire, delight and enchant you. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
4. The “Everyone Is Special” Rule
Recognize that everyone comes from a different place, and they all bring vast amounts of experience and wisdom with them. Some people are fortunate enough to be well educated. Others are not. Some people were born into money. Others worked their tails off to get it. And yet others work just as hard and will never see a dime for their efforts. The world is not fair. The deck is not evenly stacked. Luck and good fortune are not equally distributed. But everyone has something special. Everyone knows something you don’t know. Everyone is capable of doing and being someone completely different from you—and that is a worthwhile thing to respect. That’s the beauty of life. And if you can’t respect each and every person you come into contact with for that reason alone, you’re not respecting our greatest gift.