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How to sabotage your career without really trying

It's easy to undermine yourself. Here's how to avoid self-destructing at work.

Fear of saying no can undermine your success.

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Are you your own worst enemy at the office?

If this sounds familiar, the answer is probably yes: “You have an exaggerated sense of self-doubt, and then question every decision you might want to make over and over again, and that leads to a sense of procrastination because you're constantly contemplating what has gone wrong," says Dr.Elisabeth Kelan, professor of leadership at Cranfield School of Management and an expert on women and leadership.

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Self-doubt is just one way of sabotaging your career. Kelan pointed out a few ways you might be shooting yourself in the foot at work — without even knowing it.

You fear saying no — and then you drop the ball
We all have a tendency to agree with our bosses, says Kelan. That’s why the default answer is “yes” when the boss asks if you can handle more work — even when the truth is "no."

“Often people take on too much, and they don’t get their work done properly,” Kelan explains. “What some of my colleagues have suggested is to actually have a ‘no committee,’ so if you’re not quite sure if you can take something on and there’s a discretionary component in there, you have your no committee who helps you decide.”

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You count yourself out for jobs or promotions
While everyone is susceptible to self-sabotaging behaviors, women face specific hurdles that hold them back — particularly on the cusp of career growth.

“It [taking a new job] might mean that they have to change where they live, or it might be a problem for [their] partner, or the partner might not like it that the woman is accelerating in her career, and he might not be — often, just going for it is much more difficult for women than it is for men.”

You don’t engage
“Researchers have said that women don’t often voice their opinions in meetings, and this might be a behavior that over a longer period of time might hinder their progress because people think they’re not fully engaged.”

On the flipside, when women speak up they’re sometimes ignored, or their good ideas are attributed to a man. These issues can “be addressed by organizations or the individual themselves,” Kelan adds. In the meantime, speak up.

You’ve fallen into a generation gap
Sometimes, our behaviors undermine our success not because they’re counterproductive —they’re just perceived that way. For instance, “Millennials are stereotyped as being entitled and wanting to be CEO basically the day after they join, but what I was able to show in my research is actually, this entitlement stems from this sense that they have to learn as much as possible in a short period of time to remain employable,” says Kelan. "That often comes across as very entitled and overconfident, but it's actually a survival strategy."

You allow emotional labor to suck up your time and energy
Listening to colleague's concerns, keeping track of birthdays and making time to help others — this is all great, but it’s still work. Unfortunately, it’s not often valued as such. “The emotional labor that women do often goes unnoticed because it’s seen as normal for women. But if a man engages in it, it’s seen as something special that can be rewarded,” says Kelan.

Feel like you’re handling too much behind-the-scenes emotional labor? “You do have to focus on the right type of things that advance your career.”

 

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