6 Easy Ways to Sabotage Your Career

UPDATED: March 29, 2024
PUBLISHED: July 24, 2014
6 Easy Ways to Sabotage Your Career

Little things matter. Big dreams can be undermined by small decisions and actions day by day, conversation by conversation. These seemingly small things—often given little thought—communicate more about who you are than you may realize or intend.

First impressions are so powerful that they can override all other information we are told about people. Appearance and first impressions shape everything, from whether we ultimately end up liking someone to whether we view him or her as trustworthy.

“As soon as one sees another person, an impression is formed,” says Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto. “This happens so quickly—just a small fraction of a second—that what we see can sometimes dominate what we know.”

Here are some ways you can unknowingly sabotage the job you want by the impression you leave with others and the quality of your relationships:

1. Include your phone in the conversation.

After a very positive recommendation, I recently met with a company interested in working with me and my team. The senior person brought a team member with him so that she could share her critical role in delivering their services. She checked her phone throughout the conversation and texted frequently as the three of us talked.

Her actions communicated that she was disinterested, distracted and something else was more important. This not only affected my first impression of her, but also of their firm. Anytime your phone, or any device, has your attention rather than the person you are talking with, you are placing yourself at a disadvantage.

2. Assume too much familiarity.

When we interact with a new boss, potential client or new teammate like a longtime good friend, we can convey disrespect and send unintended signals. I have seen familiarity result in arriving late, sending emails with typos and errors, oversharing, constantly texting during important conversations or telling an inappropriate joke.

Misreading these boundaries might cause others to question your judgment, which takes a long time to overcome.

3. Ask the obvious.

One of the quickest ways to show you didn’t do your homework or prepare is by asking questions that have really accessible answers. Today we can research, read or view almost any fact in advance. When you interview for a new job or meet a new potential client, do your homework in advance.

A friend recently shared that a senior candidate asked about the locations where the company had operations and if an acquisition had been completed, when both answers were available with one click. Preparation shows that you care and respect everyone’s time. Plus, you’ll contribute more with preparation and planning.

4. Rely on your mirror. 

There are many easy ways to give the impression that you are holding your mirror and it’s all about you. Examples include: always asking and never giving, talking too much, having all the answers and not listening.

If you are asking for a favor, ask how you can help the other person. Listen to advice. Remember that it’s a conversation and two-way relationship, not a monologue.

5. Water the grapevine.

If you decide to talk about someone at work behind his or her back, know what you are getting into. You’ll erode the trust others have in you and potentially get yourself involved in office drama.

Use a close friend outside the office or your significant other as your sounding board. Never say anything at work that you wouldn’t mind being shared with anyone else. You’ll save yourself much potential embarrassment—or worse. See No. 2.

6. Skip the thank you.

Most of us have been blessed with countless people who helped us for no good reason other than kindness and paying it forward. They wanted to help and offer a hand—and they did. For all of their effort, we just need to do one thing. Say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for making that introduction to the new client. Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to offer me advice. Thank you. Never assume that someone is too important and has outgrown a heartfelt thank-you. Saying thank you says something very important about you.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, but remember it. These daily decisions and actions shape the impressions others have of you as much as your work. Use the small interactions to boost your reputation and build long-term relationships by starting off on the right foot.

This article was published in July 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and freshness.
Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.