Most professionals care what their colleagues and the higher-ups think of them. That's because how people perceive you and your work is often the determining factor in whether or not you get a promotion, raise or access to leadership opportunities.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of elements that go into determining what your work reputation actually is, and they're not always easy to keep tabs on. The quality of your work matters of course, but the small actions you take each day add up to create a bigger picture about who you are.
Ahead, find the most common pitfalls that people don't realize are hurting them.
It might seem like being game for anything and everything asked of you, despite being busy, is a surefire way to earn a stellar rep, but it can actually pigeonhole you into a specific job longer than you want to be there — and make you look a little too eager.
"If you always take on tasks, there will come a point in time when you become irreplaceable — and not in a good way," says Leonard Kim, managing partner of InfluenceTree, a personal branding accelerator that teaches you how to position your brand, get featured in publications and grow your social media following.
Oftentimes, when people say yes to every single task presented to them, they are seen as so "good" at their role that they become the only person who can do it. "They're never promoted because they have become the best person in the world at filling that job role," Kim explains.
In a sense, they become so synonymous with the role, that they're no longer considered for opportunities to move up. So instead of biting off more than you can chew, stick to projects that interest you and that you realistically have time to do.
There's nothing wrong with being focused, but it's important to take stock of how you act in your day-to-day.
"If you're passing someone by, are you smiling? Do you say hi? Excuse me? Or do you seem rushed?" Kim asks.
Sometimes, keeping your head down and your eyes on the prize can be mistaken for a negative outlook or an unfriendly attitude. "People take notice of all the small actions you make, so make sure you're aware of what you're doing and how it reflects on you."
"Your boss isn't the only person who matters at work," Kim says. "Your coworkers matter, too, and the last thing that you want them to do is to turn against you." So yes, it's good to impress your boss, but don't do it at the cost of alienating your colleagues.
"The most common thing I see people do that ruins their reputation at work is when they take a job that doesn't fit with their personality, but don't try to adapt," Kim explains. "Employers try their best to hire culture fits for their office, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. That means it's up to you to adapt and mold yourself into your company's culture."
Sometimes this situation can be tough to spot, but Kim says behavior that goes against the grain is generally an easy tell that something's not quite right. "Do you work in a fast-paced environment, but you're someone who takes things slow? Are you a stiff personality who tries to keep things all business in an office environment where everyone treats each other like family? Do you like to share stories about your weekends when everyone tries to be a bit more professional in the office? Chances are, you're destroying your reputation and you don't even know it."
There's a delicate balance between saying more than necessary and not saying enough, and it's important to strike that balance. "Let's say you hopped on a conference call and introduced yourself, but said nothing afterwards. Maybe you said one sentence. Or maybe you talked for the entire conversation. People will think you have nothing to contribute, your opinion doesn't matter or that you want to steal the show for yourself," Kim says.
The key here is to learn to contribute the right amount — adding value but still listening to others — and then stay consistent.
Don't get us wrong — if you're having a serious issue with a colleague that requires HR involvement, by all means, get your superior involved. But if it's something small, like a team member not pulling their weight on a specific project or a one-off comment that didn't sit right with you, don't go straight to the top, Kim says.
Being seen as someone who will run to their manager as soon as things get tough isn't exactly desirable. "If you're having a conflict with someone at the office, try your best to resolve it on your own. If you can't, then just avoid the other person. And if it becomes too much for you to handle, it may be time for you to take a conflict management class."
If you're sensing a theme here, it's that little things matter when it comes to determining your reputation.
"Whether it's chewing gum, smoking, wearing headphones at your computer, hovering over another coworker's desk or constantly being away from your desk, people take notice. Most of the time, the most subtle things are the ones that are holding you back from ultimate success," Kim says.
It might seem difficult to figure out what your little habits are that could be damaging your rep, but Kim suggests you ask yourself how you want to be seen at work. "Then think about how a person with those qualities would act at their office and compare them to your quirks. If the person you're imagining isn't chewing gum or hanging up cat pictures, then that's probably something you shouldn't be doing, either."
Many people believe that working as hard as they possibly can and outperforming everyone else will put them on the fast track to success. According to Kim, this isn't always true.
"Sometimes, working harder than everyone else will work against you. You may be thinking, what's the worst thing that can happen if you perform at your absolute best?"
Well, sucking up didn't work in grade school, and it also doesn't work in an office environment. Kim's advice is simple: Do your best, but don't go overboard. "Be humble. Tone it down. Let your work speak for itself. That way, you'll avoid any office politics."
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