Most of us have a personality trait or quirk that bosses and others have told us we need to change. Although we can't significantly alter our underlying tendencies – such as sensitivity to criticism or shyness – we can modify how we come across to others.
Here are tips for tempering eight common problems:
The problem: You see criticism even where none exists, and react defensively. You hear simple questions such as, "Why did you book that meeting room?" as the statement, "You shouldn't have booked that," and respond accordingly. You interrupt people when you take offence. The result is that people feel uncomfortable talking to you, and walk on eggshells for fear of offending you.
What to do: Listen and wait a moment before responding to possible criticism. Ask yourself: "What did they really mean? Is there another way of interpreting this other than as criticism or an attack on my competence?" If it is indeed criticism, don't take offence or exaggerate how awful it is. Instead, take it as information you can work on.
The problem: You tend to be flat and unexpressive in your words or voice. You do not make people feel good about themselves or their work. You use few adjectives, are frugal with praise, and rarely display enthusiasm.
What to do: Praise more frequently and generously. Avoid qualifiers such as "quite" ("That was quite good"). Instead, use more enthusiastic phrases such as, "That was great," "I really appreciate this." And sound like you mean it.
The problem: You complain frequently. You see everyone you work with as an idiot or otherwise wanting. You never seem happy or pleased. You are depressing to be around.
What to do: When things don't go your way, look for reasons (such as a lack of resources) rather than others' incompetence or meanness. Take inventory of what is going well. Communicate positive experiences.
The problem: You feel self-conscious and withdraw when in unstructured group situations such as networking events and parties. You do not participate in group discussions. You avoid networking. You don't market yourself and people don't know what skills you have to offer. Your reticence may be confused with arrogance.
What to do: Let managers know what you are good at – there is a difference between giving information and bragging. Force yourself to talk at meetings. Attend social events. If you feel uncomfortable, put yourself and people you approach at ease: Ask a question, or initiate a conversation by complimenting someone's apparel. Start small; for example, talk to someone you vaguely know, then initiate conversations with people who are increasingly more of a challenge. Tell yourself you need to come away from every interaction with new information or gossip. Don't be self-conscious. No one knows what you are feeling, and chances are they won't notice or care if you sound awkward.
The problem: You are quick to form an opinion and have been accused of black-or-white thinking. You tend to confuse a question of taste with a moral imperative For example, instead of seeing several ways to approach a problem, you assume there is only one right way and dismiss other viewpoints. Co-workers feel inadequate or stupid, or that their opinions are not valued.
What to do: Soften how you come across by sounding more uncertain. Wait a second before jumping in to offer a strident opinion. Instead of immediately blurting: "What you need to do is ... " or "That's dumb … ," use words and phrases such as "Umm ... ," "Maybe ... ," or "I was wondering if we might consider … ." Think shades of grey and nuances before opining. Ask people for their opinion and act as if you are interested.
The problem: You see every little thing that goes wrong as a catastrophe. You frequently say things such as "This is awful," "I'm going to be fired," "This project is completely derailed." You are also quick to blame others for problems.
What to do: Distinguish between what is truly awful and what is a glitch. Tone down your dramatic language. Instead of imagining the worst, ask yourself realistically what are the likely outcomes. Is this just your own anxiety talking? And even if it is the worst-case scenario, chances are that it is not truly dreadful.
The problem: You are your department's garbage pail because you agree to do anything you are asked, even if privately you resent doing these things. You worry whether you will hurt people's feelings or make them mad at you if you express what you are feeling. You do not speak up when you are hurt or annoyed.
What to do: Express yourself. If you are annoyed, there is nothing aggressive in saying, "I was bothered when you did … ." You also have the right to pleasantly say no to unreasonable requests. Practise refusing small ones, then bigger ones. Don't assume the person making the request will be angry or disappointed. If your manager asks you to do something and you already have a full plate, try responding with, "I don't have time to do this along with everything else – what's your priority?"
The problem: Your needs for reassurance and positive feedback are bottomless. You also want clarity on everything and have difficulty responding to ambiguous directions. Such behaviour annoys busy bosses.
What to do: Stop asking for constant feedback and fishing for compliments. Remember you aren't the only item on your boss's agenda. Chances are your manager is happy with your work if it hasn't been criticized or questioned. Learn to live with ambiguity. Your boss has likely shared as much as he or she can with you; it is up to you to manage uncertainty and put the puzzle pieces together.
Barbara Moses, PhD, is a speaker, organizational career management consultant and the author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth about Work, Relationships and the Rest of Life. Website: bmoses.com