6 things you should unlearn to succeed at work
Life has a way of instilling lessons in us that don't always apply in every context. That's especially true when it comes to work: You may have habits or ways of thinking that served you well in school or beyond, but which will actually hold you back in your professional life. Here are six of the most common things you may to need to unlearn in order to succeed at work.
1. Thinking that being thorough is always better. You might assume that of course your boss wants to know every detail about the situation you're emailing her about – being thorough is good, right? – but in most cases, most managers just want the upshot. You'll generally do better if you focus on high-level takeaways and save background and details for when and if they're specifically requested, especially when you're communicating in email. That can be a hard lesson to learn if you're naturally thorough – but remember that it's not that your boss doesn't want you to be thorough. Rather, it's that she trusts you to gather the details and then curate the most important points for her.
2. Figuring that guessing at an answer is better than nothing. Sometimes when people feel put on the spot by a question from a colleague or boss, they respond by giving their best guess. That can be fine if you're upfront about the fact that it's a guess. But if you present your guess as a certainty, it can be disastrous since people may act on the potentially wrong information you've provided. Instead, it's far better to acknowledge when you don't know something, and say that you'll find out and come back with the answer.
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3. Thinking that appearing impartial will make you more credible. People often assume that appearing impartial and perfectly objective will make them come across as more credible, but in fact the opposite can be true. Your boss knows that you have biases because you're human and we all have biases and agendas, and making a point of disclosing those conveys that you're being open and transparent. For example, if you're recommending that your department purchase a new software, it's fine to say, "I have a bias in favor of this software because it will make my life significantly easier, although I know that not everyone will like it as much as I do." Or if you're sharing concerns with your boss about someone you manage, you might say, "I want to be transparent that Jane really gets under my skin at times, and it's possible that's influencing my take on this situation." Good bosses will appreciate the full disclosure.
4. Assuming it's normal to not get along with co-workers. Whether or not you like every co-worker or enjoy working with them, part of what you're being paid for is to be pleasant and polite to people and to maintain decent relationships with them. That doesn't mean that you need to be friends with everyone at work, but it does mean that you need to be cordial and not take out a bad day, a bad mood or a personal dislike on the people you work with.
5. Thinking it's OK to show that criticism gets you down. Another thing you're being paid for is to take feedback with reasonably good grace. Part of having a job and a boss is that your boss may sometimes point out weaker areas of your work and ask you to do things differently (or simply better). An unspoken part of your employment agreement is that you'll listen with an open mind and not get defensive or angry or shut down.
6. Figuring that perfect is always better than good. Conscientious employees tend to think that "perfect" work is always better than "good enough" work, but very often the opposite is true. Often the time that it would take to perfect a project means that other work will get short shrift, and in many cases getting something done quickly is more important than making it flawless. If you struggle with perfectionism, it can be useful to ask your manager whether she actually cares about the details you're spending hours to perfect; you might find that she doesn't.