We all have a habit that’s holding our career back

Imagine for a moment that you are the ideal manager/employee. You are a well-liked and successful professional, with a reputation for being consistently fair-minded and hardworking. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, you are a human being who will make mistakes, have bad days, and who may even have a few career-limiting personal habits.

What do you do when you realize that some of your habits are holding your career back?

According to a study by VitalSmarts, you may need to reflect and make some changes, since 97 percent of employees have at least one habit that is limiting their careers.

The following are the career-crushing habits that the study found to be most prevalent, as well as some helpful hints from Joseph Grenny (Co-founder of VItalSmarts) on breaking those bad habits.


Reliability is a key trait hiring managers look for in employees. Those who keep their commitments without fail, allow their managers to mentally dismiss delegated tasks as already done. Managers love such employees.

However, many employees do not follow through on commitments 100% of the time. For such employees, managers continue to carry ownership of the assignments even after the person in question has committed to completing them.


The issue of unreliability is often a problem of communication.

People who have trouble keeping promises also struggle with maintaining boundaries to avoid conflict. Instead of saying “no,” they’d rather give a “yes” now – even if it means dealing with disapproval later.


Learning how to say “no” is vital to improving your reliability. Here are some helpful points to ponder:

  • Eye Contact –.When you are in a situation involving someone pressuring you to take on a commitment, hit the brakes by breaking eye contact, and take a deep breath.
  • Press Pause – If you can’t weigh the pros and cons of a commitment in the moment, keep a script in your head that you can use to delay your response. For example: “I would like to help out. Let me look at what’s already on my agenda, and I’ll get back by the end of today. Does that work for you?”
  • Count, Then Speak – Lastly, think about all of the commitments that you have already made. Saying “no” is much easier when you think about all the commitments you have on your plate. Telling people “no” does not always mean that you are letting them down, but instead keeping promises you have already made.


Procrastination is the most seductive of all the common flaws. All our smartphones and various other modes of communication make it all too easy to do immediate, unimportant tasks, rather than the actually important ones.


Procrastination is purely driven by fear of punishment, pain or failure. Putting off tasks that might cause some form of unpleasantness, is much easier than actually working to accomplish them.

No matter what the task at hand is, there are always unexplored and oftentimes exaggerated expectations associated with our tendency to procrastinate.


Start by expressing empathy and accommodation for your personal fears and concerns. Find and invest in your motivation, and explore different ways that increase your motivation. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Chunk your tasks- Breaking up an undesirable task into little parts allow you to celebrate each completed step.
  • Try the social approach – Bringing colleagues on board can alter your experience. If you have a presentation to compose, practice your delivery with a trusted co-worker. Their enthusiasm and feedback can help encourage you to finish the task. 
  • Quit early, finish later – Your feelings when you complete a task are like a tide that carries you forward into your next experience. Grinding away until you stumble over the finish line is the perfect recipe for misery. It is better to stop while you are still feeling engaged, thereby increasing your motivation to finish.


We all have tendency at times to be selfish, or to focus too closely on our own goals and position. Others often see that as selfishness. This does not make us jerks or unreasonable people. It simply means that we do not have a sufficient level of concern for others.


Most likely, you are missing a lot of the nonverbal signals others send, to express their wants and needs. Where things fall apart is when you become too invested in your own goals and opinions, and ignore or neglect the opinions and goals of others.


The littlest things yield the greatest results.

If you find empathy challenging, watch your body language in tense or conflicting situations. People who are only concerned with their own agendas shut down physically before they close off emotionally. They turn aside, fail to maintain eye contact, or give other physical signs that they have stopped listening. Here’s how to be more empathetic and improve your listening skills:

  • Maintain eye contact – Remain in the conversation by maintaining eye contact with others. Look them directly in the eye. Watch for expressions that show emotions. Be conscious of the emotions of others is the primary step toward becoming empathetic.
  • Curiosity – Working with others is all about cooperation and mutual interest. You need to develop questions from sincere curiosity that help you understand the thoughts and motivations of others. You may find more common ground than you might expect.

In addition to the most common habits mentioned above, other career limiting habits include passive aggressiveness, negative attitude, short-term focus and disrespect.

As per managers who VitalSmarts surveyed, addressing your main bad habit is 3 times more important that improving technical skills. So clearly it is something to spend some time and effort on.

The difference between the job and life you have and the ones you want can be simply a few bad habits. When you learn to be mindful about what causes your behavior and motivates you, you will be far more effective at changing your life and your career for the better.

But changing your behavior can often be hard. So here are some tips for achieving sustainable and measurable behavior change, from Al Switzler, one of the Co-founders of VitalSmarts.

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