Are You Derailing Your Career Without Knowing it?

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Most of us have no idea how we come across to others or what people think of us. Why? Because most people won’t tell us. Instead they talk behind our backs. Have you ever had a friend drift away without any explanation, or not gotten a promotion and not told why? Did you ask what happened, or did you make some assumptions? (Shari Harley explains this phenomenon in her book “How to Say Anything to Anyone” and what to do about it.)

In the business world, what people think and say about us impact us more than the results we deliver. Our opinions about ourselves won’t get us promoted or get us more business. What really matters is other people’s perceptions of us. We could be derailing our careers and not even know it. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “75% of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including inability to handle interpersonal problems.”  

Often times our intentions do not match our behaviors. We judge ourselves on our intentions, but other people judge us by our behaviors according to Dr. Stephen R. Covey. We may think we are coming across in a certain way because we have a positive intention, but we may not be perceived in the way we intended. This is because our delivery or behavior did not match our intention, or because of the other person’s filters (emotions, senses, experiences, beliefs, values, biases, etc.). We all have filters and perceptions that affect what we are able to see, hear and experience. Dr. Stephen Covey said, “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” Therefore, we will never know how we are perceived if we don’t get feedback from others.

So how can you get meaningful feedback? Ask a few trusted folks who care about you if you can buy them coffee and get their input. Promise you will say “thank you” no matter what they may say. Then ask these questions suggested by authors Shari Harley (#1-5) and Marshall Goldsmith (#6).

  1. What is the first impression I create?
  2. What am I/was I like to work with, or what do you think I would be like to work with?
  3. If my co-workers were asked to talk about me when I wasn’t there, what would they say?
  4. How have I exceeded your expectations?
  5. How have I disappointed you?
  6. What can I do to be a better (co-worker, boss, parent, spouse, friend, etc.)?

The answers may be difficult to hear, but valuable nonetheless. Remember to say “thank you” to whatever they may say. Feedback is truly a gift. Without it, we can never really know how we come across to others, or see our blind spots. We can’t change what we don’t know, and we can’t grow and improve unless we are willing to act on feedback. From the feedback you gather, pick one action you will take to be better, and follow up with that person in a month. According to Marshall Goldsmith, it’s more difficult to change perceptions than it is to change behavior because people don’t see what’s there; they see what they think is there due to their filters. It doesn’t matter what we say; it’s what they hear. Keep showing that you are working at it by checking in, and over time, perceptions will shift.

Please note: My work and expertise are coaching and training leaders and technical experts to increase their emotional intelligence. If you have technically smart employees who are struggling with interpersonal relationships, please act now before they derail their careers. Contact me to find out how I can help before it’s too late.

 While perceptions may not be the ultimate truth, they are what people use
to make decisions.”
– Ann Morrison, Breaking the Glass Ceiling

 “Ask more. Assume Less.” – Shari Harley


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