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7 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Career Without Knowing It

When I casually picked up a copy of Lois P. Frankel’s book Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office – Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage their Careers, I had no idea just how much it would resonate with me and impact the way I think and act at work. In this book, Frankel lists 133 mistakes that women make in the workplace, complete with a case study and a set of coaching tips for each one.

Being a young woman who’s quite ‘nice’ at work (read: forgiving, modest, a “yes” person, avoids confrontation), I found that I have definitely been guilty in past of making some of the mistakes discussed in the book, and today, I wanted to highlight seven that stood out to me, because I think they are important messages for professional women everywhere.

1.) Mistake #43: Thinking like an employee.

If you show up at work, do your job and collect your paycheck, you’re thinking like an employee. That might seem like a good thing, but your boss doesn't want you to be an employee; your boss wants you to be a partner in the process of moving the company forward. The problem for many women – and I'm sure many of us can totally relate to this one – is that they tend to feel too overwhelmed with everything they have to get done at work, to carve out time to think more broadly and strategically. Frankel recommends following industry trends, asking your boss for assignments that provide you with opportunities to expand your skillset, and continually asking yourself, “What are we not doing currently that if we started doing now would fundamentally change how we did business?” Then, find ways to introduce changes.

2.) Mistake #54: Reluctance to negotiate

We learn when we are little girls not to toot our own horns, not to talk about money, and to let others take the lead. So rather than asking for a raise or a promotion, we work away hard and quietly and hope that someone will notice and give us the rewards we deserve. We don’t like to advocate on our own behalf – it doesn’t feel right to brag. There is also the issue that a lot of women confuse negotiation with confrontation. We are expected to be too “nice” to negotiate. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Negotiation is a learnable skill. Be clear about what you want, do your research to see what others in your field or at your company are making, anticipate pushback and know what to do when that happens, and importantly, consistently deliver excellence so you have leverage when asking for what you want.

Frankel points readers to the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury for a “win-win” approach to help women feel more comfortable when negotiations are taking place with colleagues and clients.

3.) Mistake #27: Not asking questions for fear of sounding stupid

How many times have we been told, “There are no stupid questions”? Apparently not enough, because we always seem to fall back to the old adage, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and look like a fool than to open it and confirm it.” If the question you want to ask applies only to you, consider asking it offline – but if it's something that could help others, the number one rule is: if you don’t understand, ask. It’s far better than going off in the wrong direction. Trust your instincts – if it doesn’t seem clear, it’s probably not. Also remember that if anyone makes you feel stupid for asking a question, it’s their problem, not yours.

4.) Mistake #52: Putting work ahead of your personal life

Don’t make work your life. Having activities and people outside work that are important to you helps keep you positive and productive. It’s a big, dirty lie that you have to give up your life to have a successful career!

5.) Mistake #13: Avoiding office politics.

Frankel tells us that like it or not, office politics is just how things get done in professional organizations. If you’re not involved in office politics, you’re not playing the game – and if you’re not playing the game, you can’t possibly win. One of the coaching tips at the end of this section is to approach political situations as you would any negotiation: take time to find out what the other person needs, what you have to offer, and figure out how you can facilitate a win-win situation.

6.) Mistake #118: Believing that others know more than you.

Women often underestimate how much they know and put more stock in a stranger’s opinion than their own. From doctors to car salesmen, we think others know better. But everyone is human and not even the experts are always right, and trusting everybody but yourself can actually end up damaging your reputation.

This has happened to me before when I’ve received information from a subject matter expert, felt like something didn’t look/sound quite right, but I went with it anyways – because they’re the expert, not me – and it came back to bite me. I wish I’d trusted my own instincts and now I take the time to consider what’s been suggested, and politely question the source if need be.

7.) Mistake #63: Minimizing your work or position.

Too often, women make their job sound a lot smaller than it is: “Oh, I just manage a legal office” or “I’m only an administrative assistant.” You may not be the CEO, but each and every position is critical to keeping a company running. Remove these minimizing words from the description of your work, and don’t allow others to place a value on the work you do – only you can do that. Describe your job with passion and pride!

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