5 toxic workplace habits and how to break them

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Many of us would rather actually climb Mount Everest than own up to our bad habits, let alone try to break them. Thankfully, with a positive attitude and the willingness to change, putting those negative behaviors to rest becomes far less of a challenge. We talked with Nan Russell, author of four books including "Trust, Inc." and "The Titleless Leader," to find out which bad habits are most toxic in the office, why you should avoid them and how you can start working to rebuild any trust that's been damaged.

Break these bad habits

1. “It's not my job” mentality

Whether or not you're in a leadership role, taking initiative is essential to thriving at work--especially when issues turn up.

Here's Nan:

These are the people who act as if they didn't notice the problem, even when they did, and pass it along to the next person, hoping someone else will fix it, or they simply lack the initiative to take problem solving on. Second are the no-response people. These are people who use a deliberate black hole tactic, not responding to emails or messages or ignoring requests for meetings. You can't get an any answer from them unless you're their boss or have some carrot or stick over them.

2. Casual speak

That old adage about actions speaking louder than words? Turns out they're of equal volume.

Here's Nan:

Too many professionals don't take their own words seriously, creating a disconnect between what they say and what they do. That lack of work-action alignment decreases their credibility and trust.

3. Following the herd

This one can be especially hazardous in tech, where creativity is a vital part of the job.

Here's Nan:

Independent thinking is a prized and infrequently found behavioral. But it's hard work. Few professionals invest the time to become independent thinkers but “follow the herd,” or go along to get along, ultimately contributing little if anything but mediocre sameness.

4. Keeping all the wrong people in the loop

A trailing cc list certainly isn't going to do you any favors and, in fact, it can have quite the opposite effect. Here you are thinking that you're covering all your bases when, in reality, you're probably just bothering people who aren't directly involved with the topic.

Here's Nan:

Quick, ongoing communication is the best strategy so people who need to know something are frequently updated and “in the know.” But, when you're on the receiving line of trailing cc's, especially with everyone's boss being added, break the chain. Reply only to the people who are directly involved. Deescalate. Of course, picking up the phone or arranging a conference call with key players can work wonders.

5. Avoiding face-to-face communication

Face-to-face communication may not always be an option, but it's often the best method when there's conflict.

Here's Nan:

Certainly people work on different shifts, time zones, or even in different countries so picking up the phone may not always work immediately. But, most things can be delayed 10-12 hours to resolve. So, schedule a time to talk. My husband is an tech guy who works with a team dispersed throughout the world, but calls happen all the time, scheduled by anyone who needs it. The amount of time wasted on back and forth emails, requires options from phone calls, meeting, skype, or even IM-ing – anything that can happen in real-time.

Adopt these positive behaviors

1. Align your actions with your words

If our actions and words hold equal weight, how can we make sure that they're each heard? The trick is to align one with the other.

Here's Nan:

It is an essential ingredient for building performance trust. Behavioral integrity is rooted in your actual action; i.e. is what you say actually what you do? And in the case of behavioral integrity, there is no small stuff. Tell me you'll get me the report by Friday, but send it on Monday means no word-action alignment, no trust building that you'll deliver what you say you will. If you don't do the small things you commit to, what about the bigger ones?

2. Cultivate self-awareness

It's only when we cultivate self-awareness that we can begin to change our own negative work habits.

Here's Nan:

Cultivate self-awareness by being mindfully aware of how you show up. You can do that with two elements: first, by watching yourself, using a simple-to-learn by yourself technique of observing yourself, as if you were someone else. Second, tap into your intentions, or your motive. We think we know our intentions, but often we fool ourselves thinking our intention is one thing when it's actually another. You can get to intention by answering yourself the question about a certain behavior or action you're doing: “Why am I doing this anyway?”

3. Work with your own data

Getting feedback on your performance is gathering your own personal data. You can sit around and dwell on the areas that need work or you can take action and start using it in your favor.

Here's Nan:

None of us can operate effectively without feedback. Feedback is data. The more data you get, the more information you'll have to improve. However, is good to remember feedback is opinion, not fact, and ultimately you're in charge of what you do with it.

4. Realize that trust can be repaired

Amen to that, right? We all have bad habits that could use a little breaking. The important thing is to recognize these behaviors and take the appropriate steps toward changing them before it's too late.

Here's Nan:

The good news about trust is, it can be repaired, as long as it wasn't broken through lying or dishonest behaviors. A way to start doing that includes these elements: own your role in what happened, be open to honest dialogue for discovery and resolution, heighten your self-awareness, assess your beliefs about trust, demonstrate consistent trustworthy behaviors, restart trust, and give it time.


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Stacy Warden

Stacy Warden is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.