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Beware the habits that trap you

your attitude can be a trap

We all generally have a “default personality” mode that we fall into depending on who we are with. Often these attitudes become habitual, particularly in an office environment. It is when these become negative that we need to be able to identify and then change our habits before they impact our job performance.

The “know-it all” trap

We all know this person – they know everything about everything, and they can’t keep their comments to their own cubicle. They are not open to collaborating or hearing any new ideas, and they believe they have all the answers even when they haven’t received all the information. This is particularly annoying when a new employee displays this attitude. There is no possible way you can know everything. Even the top specialist in a field may have a gap in their knowledge.

How to avoid the trap:  You need to be able to say “I don’t know…”, or “That’s interesting, do you have more information?” Even if you think you have all the facts on a topic, watch your delivery. Tone can make or break any conversation. Acknowledge what is currently being done and why, then make suggestions based on your knowledge and experience.

The “complaining” trap

Complaining hasn’t solved the energy crisis, and it won’t help you with the problems in your workplace. Complaining does nothing but help you feel more trapped and miserable in a situation. It is also incredibly contagious. Once a colleague starts, you will find yourself joining ‘the complain train’. Next thing you know there are 5 of you around the water cooler discussing your woes. It drags down moral and makes a bad situation worse. Colleagues may actively start avoiding you just to dodge those conversations.

How to avoid the trap: A good complain can help you get out your frustrations so you can move on. If you are not careful, you can find yourself having the same ‘vent’ session every day with the same people.  Do what you can to change it, and if you can’t – accept it and move on. If it becomes completely unbearable, and you have done everything you can, know that it might be time to move on or ask for a transfer.

The “show me what to do” trap

First day on a job and you have no idea what to do. You ask for help, and get it! However, a few months later, your repeated “I don’t know, can you show me what to do?” may be followed by eye rolls from your co-workers. No one – I repeat, no one – likes to show someone how to do the same thing 100 times.

How to avoid the trap: Take notes, ask questions, and pay attention. There is nothing wrong with clarifying what you should do next. It shows you have paid attention when you got help, but want to make sure you do it correctly this time around. Helpless and whining will never show your abilities in a good light. Instead, try saying “I completed ABC but have forgotten the next step to get to XYZ. Do I complete JKL to get there?”

The “alliances” trap

Being part of a team or a group of co-workers gives you a sense of belonging. There is security in cliques. But beware of the comparing that can start within these groups. It only leads to unhappiness when we create alliances again others. It doesn’t serve you to compare salaries, the attention and/or the special treatments others may receive. Frustration will build on frustration until you come to a tipping point – and unfortunately your reaction could affect your career at your current company.

How to avoid the trap: The office isn’t the grounds for WW3. Instead of preparing for battle, ask yourself if there is anything you can do to change the situation. This may mean expanding your group of connections within the office. Instead of deepening your alliances, become better known across your organisation. Go for lunch with different people. Volunteer for events. By doing this you start being seen as an individual and not part of the group that is creating dissension in the ranks.

The “gossip” trap

While gossip is nearly impossible to avoid, you don’t need to be part of it. You definitely don’t want to be the one generating or spreading it. There is a difference between knowing what is going on, and gossiping about situations with the partial information you have. Gossip creates suspicion and mistrust. When everyone in a department is known to gossip, everyone assumes they are the ones being spoken about. Paranoia is no one’s friend, and an environment where everyone is talking about everyone is sure to create unease.

How to avoid the trap: You never want to be known as the gossip of an organisation. If you find yourself in conversations that turn to gossip, just excuse yourself. It is easy to say “I need to go make a call”, or “I have to finish a report by 11am” and leave a conversation. If you find yourself always caught in gossip, you may need to take a firmer stand and say “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”


When habits are positive, we have nothing to worry about. When they become negative they will eventually cast us in a less than favourable light.  Identifying when it is time to make some changes is a career must. It really comes down to being aware of how we act in work groups, and making those reactions constructive ones.

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