Shooting Yourself in the Foot: Self-Sabotage in the Workplace
by Betsy Garman
Self-sabotage is similar to shooting yourself in the foot—painful and completely avoidable and unnecessary. However, self-sabotage (unlike shooting yourself in the foot) in the workplace is a common phenomenon. Most people have either engaged in some of these behaviors or have seen co-workers or friends participate in the self-sabotage cycle. Recognizing self-sabotage is the first step in preventing it, but before we discuss prevention, let’s discuss the definition.
The concept of professionalism depends upon environment—much like self-sabotage; what is appropriate in some situations is simply not appropriate in others. Some workplaces establish a specific code of conduct and of dress and expect their employees to follow these rules. Unfortunately adhering to these rules alone is not enough to guarantee success. Recognizing appropriate situational behavior and communication is necessary for interpersonal relationships. Self-sabotage can occur at both personal and professional levels.
Self-sabotage at the personal level includes engaging in behavior that criticizes you outside the realm of your particular position. An example is criticizing your intellect (or weight, class, social status, ethnicity, or sex) when speaking with a co-worker. There are no circumstances under which it is appropriate to extensively criticize yourself when communicating with a colleague.
Mistakes are a part of life and it is important to accept responsibility for your actions. At the same time, it is possible to formulate an apology and accept responsibility without putting yourself down. You may be tempted to participate in self-deprecating humor in an attempt to correct a problem. Be wary of this type of behavior, because within each joke is a grain of truth, and your colleagues will have a direct insight into the potentially negative way that you view yourself. It is important to project an image that you would like others to perceive.
Self-sabotage at the professional level may include criticizing yourself directly in relation to your professional position. Refrain from making negative, frequent, and excessive comments regarding the difficulty, the amount, or the quality of your work. Hard work will get you noticed by colleagues and supervisors. Perseverance and determination do pay off—if not in compliments, then in valuable experience. Discussing your successes or your shortcomings in excess will have the same effect on opinions of you.
Personal and professional self-sabotage are alike in that statements that are made within these contexts are often lacking in relevance. It is easier to correct a situation in which you have said too little than to correct a situation in which you have said too much. When communicating in the workplace, take an extra moment and think about a sentence before you say or write it. Evaluate the relevance of this thought, and if it does not directly apply to the situation, do not communicate the thought to others. It is possible to reflect a pleasant, friendly, knowledgeable image without also projecting an image of perfection. Your supervisor and colleagues will appreciate your enhanced attention to your communication skills.
Working with someone who participates in self-sabotage is difficult. Although this person may be friendly and cheerful, his need to focus the conversation on himself and his (positive or negative) traits is destructive. As much as possible, avoid allowing this person to engage in self-sabotage; don't allow yourself to react to or comment upon his statements. Your reaction is an integral part of this cycle and although it may be inappropriate to directly confront a colleague about his behavior, you can shape your interactions and make a difference within your workplace for yourself and others.
Self-sabotage often occurs in an effort to gain acceptance or approval from peers. Unfortunately it has the opposite effect—undermining the speaker and his credibility. Whether you engage in self-sabotage or have a friend or co-worker who does, you now have the tools to change your own behavior and to reduce your own participation in the self-sabotage cycle.
Betsy Garman is a full-time editor with a Bachelor's degree in linguistics and a Master's in English with a certificate in professional editing. Learn more about her here.
A Note From Kristen
Self-sabotage is just as big a problem in writing as it is in day-to-day life and workplace interactions. Don't make things harder than they need to be on your next writing project.
- Create deadlines for yourself, and put them on your calendar.
- Keep careful track of your sources, and be sure to label your notes for easy citations later.
- Familiarize yourself with the expectations of the assignment or submission guidelines, and try to apply them as you write.
- Start early, and ask for help along the way.
If you need a hand with breaking the self-sabotage cycle, stop on over to Editing for Everyone for some free resources for writers, and peruse our services page to see if we can help you on your next project.
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