Are you your own worst enemy?

Identify the monsters that bring on self-destruction at work

The company president has created a position that would double your salary, increase the number of vacation days you get and allow you to spend a total of one week out of every month traveling and speaking to key clients. You are the only internal employee being considered. During the interview, when you are asked if you have any questions, you reply, “Just one. Why me?”

This hypothetical situation represents an extreme example of what many people do every day-undermine their own efforts on the job. It occurs through words (“I can’t express interest in being project leader; the boss would never go for it”) and actions (ignoring suggestions on how to improve your communication skills only to stumble hopelessly through a five-minute presentation to the heads of the organization-for the third time). Regardless of the form it takes, such self-destructive behavior is one of the surest ways to a dead-end career.

“Why do people do things that seem destined to undermine their own success?” asks Bob Wall, a clinical psychologist and management consultant based in Seattle. Actually, “there are a number of factors that contribute to our apparent self-sabotage in the workplace.”

In his book Working Relationships: The Simple Truth About Getting Along With Friends and Foes at Work (Davies-Black Publishing, $20.95), Wall identifies four. We’ll break them down here, and show you how to overcome each one next month.

n Culprit #1: An unclear view of ourselves. Most of us don’t see ourselves for who or what we actually are. “It is very easy for all of us to see another person’s faults and foibles, but when asked to describe our own, that is another matter entirely,” says Wall.

n Culprit #2: Our blindness to the impact we have on those around us. For example, you might ordinarily be polite and helpful to your co-workers, but when you’re under pressure, you unknowingly become more curt. Your behavior alienates your colleagues and potentially damages your working relationship with them.

n Culprit #3: Flawed personal logic. “People always have a perfectly good explanation for behaving the way they do. It’s ‘perfectly good’ in the sense that our account of ourselves always makes good sense to us, no matter how we might be perceived by others,” indicates Wall.

n Culprit #4: The strong pull of our personal history. Our experiences influence and shape how we view ourselves and interact with others. For instance, if, as a child, you got what you wanted by throwing temper tantrums, you’ll probably carry that behavior and its expected outcome-getting your way-into the workplace.

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