Etiquette Errors That Can Sink Your Career
Don't try to be the smartest person in the room, for starters
When I was growing up, I craved positive reinforcement and would do anything to get it. Instead of expecting it, I had to earn it.
Overconfidence can make you seem like a jerk.
If you’re under 30, you grew up in an age of positive reinforcement. Coaches gave you trophies for showing up; parents said you could do or be whatever you wanted. These accolades gave you extreme confidence as well as a sense of entitlement.
Now that you’re entering the real world — and negotiating the complex issues it presents — you may be in for a rude awakening. Almost any job you take (assuming you find one) demands that you learn and apply new skills. Doing so will be difficult, time-consuming, and at times demoralizing. This process is normal — and so is the anxiety and frustration it evokes.
The trick is to master some basic etiquette essentials so your transition to adulthood is as smooth as possible. Here are some errors to be sure to avoid, as well as tips to try — after all, your life will be simpler if you know the rules.
1.) Don’t try to prove you’re the smartest person in the room (even if you are).
I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world and have learned this: You will be more popular and well-liked if you always remain humble. Sure, confidence is key to getting ahead in life. It helps you do better at work, in relationships, in interviews. Overconfidence, however, can make you seem like a jerk, especially if you work with people of different cultures.
We all know one person who thinks he or she is the strongest, smartest, and just all around best at everything. Truthfully, we dislike that person to some degree.
It’s important to stay humble. People respond well to humility because it shows you place yourself at the same level as them, and not above them. No matter how successful you think you are, never forget where you came from and always try to see the world through other people’s eyes.
2.) Don’t hide from your mistakes — take responsibility and do your best to fix them.
It’s OK to be wrong sometimes — and more importantly, it’s OK to admit it to others. When you mess up, drop the ball, miss a deadline, or have an epic fail, it can feel like your career is coming to an end. But any great leader will tell you that he or she has made many mistakes along the way.
Good leaders will admit it was the collective insight from bad decisions that taught them invaluable lessons. So learn to see opportunities in everything (good and bad).
Whenever you make a mistake, take a deep breath and relax. Failure is a part of life and to be successful you absolutely must learn to turn it into a tool as opposed to a roadblock. Failure hurts, and that may never change, but you will only get wiser when you learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to admit them. If you lie, blame, or cover up your mistakes, you will lose credibility and never get it back.
3.) Don’t be hurtful when you’re being honest with someone.
Sometimes the honest truth hurts. That’s why a lot of people avoid it. If you’re going to be honest with someone, do it in a healthy and respectful way. Think before you speak and choose your words carefully.
Ask yourself, “Is this is something that really needs to be said?” If so, does it need to be said right now? If you offer advice or a critique, do it privately so the other person doesn’t get embarrassed. It is possible to be honest, forthright, and kind. Pick your battles carefully and remember — once you say something, you can never take it back.
4.) Don’t say or do things you’ll later regret.
Everyone is on their best behavior before and immediately after they get hired. But after a few months (or less), people tend to let their guard down and their true personality starts to show.
Don’t be so lax that you forget to bring your manners to work. Look and act your best every day and keep a smile on your face. People will talk about you, so give them something positive to say.
Every job has a fair amount of stress. The more stressed you get, the more prone you are to say or do something you might later regret. As the saying goes, “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Take a step back before you fly off the handle. If you live by the Golden Rule and treat others the way you want to be treated, you will never go wrong.
5.) Don’t ignore great advice from those who have been around the block.
Nothing you say will ever teach you anything. It’s only when you’re listening to other people — many of whom are older and wiser than you — that you’re more apt to learn something new. Listening is a crucial skill to success. Communication experts consider listening an even greater accomplishment than speaking well.
We’re all drawn to people who make us feel special, and being listened to is the one behavior that will do it for us every time.
Strive to learn at least one new thing every day. Ask others for advice — and take it. At the beginning stages of your career, soak up all the knowledge you can like a sponge. Ask engaging questions, and listen for pearls of wisdom.
Be nice to everyone — waiters, cashiers, bank tellers, receptionists, and especially your co-workers, customers, and clients.
6.) Don’t shrug off seemingly ‘menial’ tasks.
If your job involves opening mail and answering phones — do it well and cheerfully. A college degree does not mean you are above any task you were hired to do.
When I graduated from college years ago, I took a job as a sales secretary with a well-known Disney hotel. A year later, I was promoted to special events coordinator. If I had my sights set on a management position from the start, I would never have been hired. I did not have enough experience and I didn’t know anyone in the company.
Sometimes you have to be brave enough to take a job that is out of your skill set or pays less if you want to get your foot in the door. Once you get in, you can prove your worth, get people to like and trust you, and move up the corporate ladder. Furthermore, when you aren’t afraid of doing just about anything, you become more valuable to the company.
7.) Don’t be rude to those who are ‘below’ you. Someone you work with might be your boss someday.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” Be nice to everyone — waiters, cashiers, bank tellers, receptionists, and especially your co-workers, customers, and clients. These people can make your life easier, if they want to.
Being nice doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover or a people pleaser. In fact, “nice” is the toughest four-letter word you’ll ever hear. It means once you learn to place other people’s needs at the same level as your own — you will get farther in life.
If you want to leave a lasting impression, get a promotion, and be an inspiration to others — try these tips and watch the doors of opportunity open.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert, a bestselling author, and the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach.