There are a lot of reasons why people lose their jobs.
The most obvious: absenteeism, poor performance, lying, stealing, and harassment.
But what about those hidden reasons?
What about reasons that can blindside you at every level of your career while you’re showing up, working hard, and feeling optimistic about your future at work?
To better understand a few of these sneaky career killers and how to avoid them, I spoke with curiosity expert and author of Living Curiously, Becki Saltzman.
1. Resist clustering in cliques
Joining a clique at work can provide a sense of belonging and security, but these cliques can be career killers when you become branded for your peers and not for yourself. This is particularly dangerous for your career when your clique has fallen out of favor, become part of a huge layoff, or is not being targeted for positions of leadership.
Cross-pollinate and expand your networks to be broader, rather than deeper. Develop relationships within your organization that are outside of your area of expertise, and expand your network outside of your industry.
Andrew Hargadon, innovation researcher and author of How Breakthroughs Happen, refers to the process of assembling people, ideas, and objects in new combinations as “technology brokering.” In Living Curiously , Saltzman explains this cross-pollinating can help you apply innovative techniques to your career as a form of “life brokering” that can inoculate you against the effects of career-killing cliques.
2. Challenge bogus platitudes
Statements and platitudes like “Let’s not reinvent the wheel,” or “Good things come to those who wait,” or “The customer is always right,” are often bandied about within organizations. While they can help unite companies, they can also act as roadblocks to career advancement if you’re not curious about when they apply and when they don’t.
Test assumptions by facing these platitudes with a healthy dose of skepticism. Explore your company’s review and promotion process by asking a human resources specialist or finding a relaxing time to directly ask your boss. Look for a promotion that surprised you, and look for reasons for the promotion beyond “good things coming to someone who waits.”
3. Stop trying too hard to be interesting
When you are new to an organization or at times when you feel marginalized at work, making an effort to have your co-workers, customers, and superiors get to know you better can seem like a good thing.
However, the danger is in the perceived effort. Trying too hard to be interesting can backfire and make you appear self-centered and desperate.
Instead, focus on being interested. Get more curious about others. Persuasion expert Robert Cialdini suggests looking for sincere reasons to like people.
Saltzman suggests, “Finding and sharing uncommon commonalities is a proven way to connect with others without appearing desperate.” She adds, “Asking curious questions like, ‘What would surprise most people about your job?’ shows that you’re curious about others. This will make people more curious and interested in you.”
4. Refrain from too much groupthink
Going along with group agreement or disagreement can make decision-making easier than pioneering original ideas or boldly suggesting different alternatives. However, overly relying on this type of groupthink can reduce your career mojo.
Instead, engage in new ways of thinking and suggest others do the same. Consider preposterous ideas. Use both divergent (free-range) thinking and convergent (applied) thinking.
Saltzman suggests asking the curious question, “Is it better, in this instance, to be wrong in a crowd, or right alone?”
5. Bust biases
Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that help us process information more quickly, but they also can mislead us and negatively impact our career decisions.
Outsmart your biases by going against your gut and putting your intuition to the test. Listen to and consider ideas and information that do not confirm what you believe or wish to be true.
If you’re an investor, for example, seek information that could indicate that you’re overpaying for an investment that you really want to make. Attempt to consider ideas generated by people who you usually dismiss.
6. Fend off familiarity
According to Saltzman, familiarity is a two-pronged career-killer. One type of familiarity comes from too much sharing. The other type comes from too much “knowing.”
Too much sharing is avoided by keeping the drama away from the workplace. Too much “knowing” is trickier. Certainly giving off the impression of not knowing can be a career-killer. But we also stifle the curiosity needed to advance in our careers if we believe we know all that there is to know.
Try new things outside of work, like learning archery, as a way to reconnect with your beginner mindset and regain comfort with less familiarity in situations where your career is not at stake.
7. Avoid behavior bombs
Triggers and biases cause us to behave less than optimally by activating our personal behavior bombs. Your triggers might cause you to erupt when confronted by the selfish behavior of others, the feeling of being ignored or falsely accused, or feeling excluded from decision-making.
It is important to be curious about and aware of these triggers before they activate your behavior bombs and cause you to destroy your career. Creating “trigger tools” that help you elevate curiosity ahead of criticism, judgment, fear, or complacency allows you to access the trigger before reacting with a behavior bomb.
In Living Curiously, Saltzman suggests imagining an electronic dial that you can twist to elevate your curiosity so that you can instantly start reacting to behavior bomb triggers with curiosity instead of emotion. You can reduce the power of these triggers over you and your career.
Being aware of these less obvious career killers is the first step in making sure that they don’t blindside you. Understanding how to combat them will ensure that they do not reduce your career mojo.