5 ways you are undermining yourself at work without even noticing

Wondering why you’re not getting ahead as quickly as you want at work? Been passed over for a few projects, or not included in team activities as much as you would like?

Check and see if you have one or more of these annoying habits that could be a turn off. No matter what stage you are at in your career, even just one of these behaviours can undermine your credibility, make you seem somewhat juvenile and stop people wanting to be around you. Those don’t sound like good criteria for positive reward and recognition, do they? 

Here are five ways you could be undermining yourself at work without even realising it and how you can help yourself, or your colleagues, to stop. 

1. Verbal ticks

These are extremely common but hard for individuals to recognise for themselves. Most people have phrases they use on a regular basis, but once these become ingrained in your vocabulary chances are you are using them far too often. 

Over used phrases such as ‘like’, (it’s not like anything) ‘sorry’ (when the situation doesn’t warrant it) and other filler words such as ‘perfect’ (things rarely are) make you come across as less than articulate, and give a perception you are lacking in vocabulary.

Verbal ticks are surprisingly easy to change once you are aware of them. Take the time to listen to yourself, ask others if necessary and then slow yourself down and make a conscious effort to stop the repetition. Filler words can often be replaced with, well, nothing. Often, it is tempting to replace silence with filler words because many of us don’t like silence. Once these words removed from your vocabulary, you will come across as more professional and eloquent.

RELATED: How to become indispensable at work

2. Visual ticks

Some of these are even harder than verbal ticks for you to spot yourself.

One thing I was alerted to early on in my career was my habit of nodding my head randomly in agreement when someone was talking to me to explain a task or concept — even though I wasn’t listening to them.

I didn’t actually know what they were about to tell me, so why was I nodding? I just looked a little like one of those car dashboard bobble heads, which was doing my credibility no favours. My boss at the time broke this tick to me very gently, for which I will be forever grateful.  

A colleague was also told that it was very clear when she disagreed with something as she would pull a ‘that is just ridiculous’ face. She still does on rare occasions, but nowhere near as often as she did before.

If you need to tell someone about a visual tick you think is hampering their career, offer it up as a helpful tip, just as something that you have noticed that you think they probably don’t even realise that they are doing, rather than a direct criticism. The key thing to remember here is that if you are highlighting a visual tick to someone you need to break it to them in a constructive manner, as it is intensely personal.

Other pet peeves in this category include avoiding eye contact, which can make you come across as untrustworthy. Try to maintain eye contact at least 60 per cent of the time if you are having a one-on-one conversation, and more if you are listening to an individual.

Gesticulating wildly is also a no-no. Using your hands to express yourself is great to a degree, but you don’t want to flail around like a windmill. If you’re not sure what to do with your hands when talking to people, try steepling them in front of you, or use a relaxed hand clasp halfway up your body. 

Reducing your visual ticks mean that people will be able to focus more on what you are actually saying rather than the way you are saying it. Important, if you take into account that a significant 55 per cent of your message is received through body language alone, with 38 per cent coming from tone of voice and only 7 per cent from the actual content.

RELATED: Are these negative beliefs holding you back at work?

3. Getting involved in office gossip

On the converse, you need to know how to navigate the tricky world of office politics. Anticipate what people need and find a way to provide it. Take note of the unspoken rules that operate in any workplace, and work within their boundaries. 

Avoid office gossip like the plague though. Gossip has negative connotations and being seen as negative person will definitely hinder your career. It is not constructive and if you get a reputation for being a gossip, people will think you are untrustworthy, leading to missed opportunities and eventually a lack of communication with your team, as people won’t trust you to keep their confidences. 

The opposite is also true - if you are trustworthy, people will soon realise they can depend on you and additional responsibilities will come your way.

RELATED: Where to draw the friendship line at work

4. The wrong email tone or audience

Emails are a potential minefield, in the same way that texts can be. In reality it is often impossible to tell how something should be read and its intended tone when it is only written down and not verbally expressed. 

An extension on this topic is emailing or calling when you can have a quick discussion in person. Relationships make the world go round and this is just as true at work. Hiding behind email or a phone call does no one any favours. If you can’t talk in person then a phone call is infinitely better than email. 

Other annoying email habits that can negatively affect people’s perception of you include cc-ing people unnecessarily on an email chain, meaning they get multiple replies on a topic they don’t need to be involved in. This shows that you don’t know your target audience as well as you should do. Only email those who need to be directly involved in a discussion. 

RELATED: 5 ways to use negative feedback to your advantage

5. Bad manners

Bad manners come in various forms, both physical and verbal. Bad personal hygiene shows little respect to your colleagues, as does eating smelly or noisy food, humming or fidgeting incessantly at your desk. 

Talking extremely loudly, especially in an open plan office, can be very tiring to listen to all day. If you have to make a long phone call, try to take it in a meeting room where possible. 

Quite simply, do as you would be done by when it comes to manners. Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and holding the door open for colleagues following behind you are all small things but they all make a big difference in how you are perceived. 


Here are some bad habits to try and avoid:

  • Verbal ticks
  • Visual ticks
  • Getting involved in office gossip
  • The wrong email tone or audience
  • Bad manners
Join over 60,000 readers!
Get a free weekly update via email here and help kick start your career.

Advertise Your Role With Us

Advertise Your Role With ReachTalent