7 Ways You’re Unconsciously Undermining Yourself

You’re crushing it everyday at your job. But are you ruining your chances for a promotion by tapping your pen, checking your phone, and being buddies with your cubemate?

7 Ways You’re Unconsciously Undermining Yourself
[Image: Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski]

People are judging you.


It’s not fair, but when you start to progress in your career, your moves come under scrutiny. And you could be undermining yourself without even realizing it.

“There are definitely things that people do that can make others think they’re ineffective leaders and they’re not always aware of them,” says Halley Bock, the president and CEO of Fierce, Inc., a leadership development and training firm based in Seattle.

So, even if you think you’re doing everything right, check yourself for these seven areas that can be harming your well-crafted image.

1. You Look Like You’re Not Listening.

Being a poor listener can manifest in a number of different ways, including checking your phone while someone else is speaking, staring off into the distance, or just clearly not following along with the conversation, Bock says. People resent when their thoughts or input is treated as unimportant, which erodes your influence–plus, you’re possibly missing valuable information that can help you lead more effectively.

2. You Don’t Follow Through on Promises.

If you say you’re going to do something, do it or risk losing your credibility as a leader, says Jené Kapela, founder of Fort Lauderdale-based Jené Kapela Leadership Solutions, LLC. Leaders need to be trustworthy, and “people won’t trust you if you don’t follow through,” she says.


3. You Use the Wrong Tone of Voice.

Once you open your mouth, people are forming opinions about your trustworthiness, dominance, attractiveness and warmth in half a second. In a March 2014 study published on online journal PLoS One, researchers at the University of Glasgow and Princeton University found that in the time it takes you to say “hello,” many have already sized up key aspects of your leadership quotient–often in as little as 300 to 500 milliseconds.

4. You Fidget Too Much.

Wiggling your foot, tapping your pen, drumming your fingers all seem like minor transgressions, but being fidgety can indicate you’re nervous or uncomfortable and not suited to the role of a leader, Bock says. If you notice yourself doing these things, work on controlling them–at least in settings when you’re trying to exude confidence and competence, she says.

5. You Make Too Little (Or Too Much) Eye Contact.

Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or a presentation to 100 people, we know it’s essential to make eye contact to establish trust and exude confidence. But don’t go overboard, Bock says. Too much eye contact can range from seeming mildly creepy to downright aggressive.

6. You Are Too Self-Confident.

While some narcissistic traits can help you command respect and influence for your bold vision and self-esteem, too much has the opposite effect. In a 2013 study published in the journal Personnel Psychology, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Nebraska found that narcissists often emerged as leaders, but if they couldn’t keep their feelings of self-importance and lack of empathy in check, they eventually lost their influence and were seen as exploitative and arrogant–the antithesis of good leadership.

7. You’re Everybody’s Friend.

Effective leaders are often warm and accessible, but beware of becoming too friendly or accommodating, Kapela warns. Leaders need boundaries, especially in the workplace. People are going to have trouble trusting you or looking to you for guidance if you exhibit poor judgment yourself, such as engaging in office gossip or drinking to excess at company functions, she says.


“It goes back to professional behavior. Be consistent and authentic and people will respond to you for that and have respect for you as opposed to, if you’re being a friend to someone and then making poor decisions as an employee,” she says.

About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites