It is the fear of most people at work: When you wiggle your way into a group at your office happy hour, the conversation immediately screeches to a halt. When you speak up in team meetings, your colleagues roll their eyes. You feel like you hear whispers every time you walk down the hallway.
For whatever reason, you’re hated at work. And, even further, you’re convinced that it’s your no-good, backstabbing co-workers that are the problem. Why on earth wouldn’t they like you? You think you’re pretty great. How catty and childish (ahem, not to mention blind) are they?
Brace yourself for a rude awakening: The issue here could very well be you.
When you’re not well-liked in the office, it’s easy to point the finger at your co-workers. But, here’s the brutal reality: You play a large role in how you’re perceived in the office—meaning it’s not all the fault of your seemingly nasty and judgmental colleagues.
“When the behaviors are ‘built in’, it’s easy for us to see them as right. Habits slowly build from this repeated behavior,” adds Jeanne Patti, a career coach. “If we ourselves don’t see the habits forming or those around us don’t call us out on them, these behaviors can become chronic and can negatively affect our character and how others view us.”
What does all of this mean for you? Well, the way that you’re behaving in the office could be majorly turning your colleagues off—without you even realizing it. Here’s how to turn it around and become more likable — not with tricks, but with honest self-assessment.
How to examine your own behavior for flaws
So, what sorts of behaviors could you be exhibiting that are making your teammates cringe? Well, from constantly complaining to interrupting, your obnoxious actions could run the gamut.
“The most toxic behaviors I see in the workplace involve individuals who think that the only way for them to get a win is for other people to lose,” explains Karlyn Borysenko, a principal of Zen Workplace, about something she sees crop up frequently. “If they aren’t pushing other people down, they don’t think they can get ahead.”
Office gossip is another terrible trap that’s easy to fall into. “As human beings, we like to understand why things are the way they are, and if we don’t have a clear explanation for it, we’ll come up with stories to explain it,” adds Borysenko.
Here are some other things you could be doing that are contributing to your “least liked” status in the office.
Maintaining control at all costs: Being the quintessential control freak might seem like a great way to take initiative and bring some much-needed organization to your team, but it’s sure to grate on your colleagues.
“These people want to make all the decisions, double-check everything, and nitpick all the small details,” says Borysenko. Exhibiting this behavior might mean that you’ll even go so far as to provide direction to your peers—you act like the boss, even though you’re not.
Taking credit for other’s work: This one’s a no-brainer, right? But, you’d be surprised by how easy it is to fall into this same trap yourself.
Whether you provide a not-so-subtle reminder that the project was a team effort when your colleague is praised by your boss or you pass off an idea that your team member mentioned to you as your own, it can be tempting to ride on coattails or create your own spinoffs in order to shift the spotlight to yourself.
Breeding negativity: When your team member wants to change the way you do a certain report, you complain. When the office manager switches out the brand of coffee in the breakroom, you complain.
“The pessimist can build a pretty strong case why the change can hurt the status quo,” says Patti. “When projects don’t meet their goals, these guardians prove themselves ‘right’, and the pessimistic behavior will build upon itself.”
Having all the answers: Nobody likes a know-it-all. Not only is this behavior just plain obnoxious, but it can also lead to some pretty condescending treatment of your colleagues.
“When this person becomes stressed or unable to contribute in a way they see as valuable to help fix the problem, they can quickly judge others and see them as incompetent,” Patti explains.
Avoiding conflict: Are you somebody who prefers to duck and cover as soon as conflicts arise or conversations get a little more heated?
You might think that playing Switzerland is a surefire way to stay out of the mess altogether. But, avoiding unpleasantness at all costs—and leaving your co-workers to duke it out, even when you have a dog in the fight yourself—is actually equally as frustrating.
How to build self awareness
Here’s the problem we all run into: Recognizing these behaviors in ourselves can be tough.
After all, if you knew that something you were doing was royally pissing your co-workers off, you probably would’ve stopped doing that thing long ago, right?
Needless to say, the first step to changing any behavior or habit is being able to identify it. So, in order to gain some more favor in the office (and stop those eye rolls that you’ve grown to dread), you’re going to need to become a little more self-aware. Here’s how.
1. Take ownership
First up? Accepting the fact that you do indeed play a large role in the way that you’re perceived in the office. Sorry, it’s not all the fault of your seemingly judgmental colleagues.
“If we acknowledge how our behaviors are being perceived by our co-workers, that means we need to place blame on ourselves, and most people simply don’t want to do that,” shares Borysenko. “It’s far easier to put ourselves in the role of a victim so that we don’t have to accept that we probably could have approached things differently.”
2. Ask for feedback
Remember those blind spots you have about your own behavior? You might need to pull in some outside reinforcements to help you realize when you’re acting like, well, a jerk. “We all need to get direct feedback on what we are doing wrong,” explains Elster.
Whether you want to have an honest (and likely to be brutally frank) conversation with a co-worker that you trust or plan to bring up the way that you’re perceived in the office during a one-on-one with your supervisor, getting the insights—and help—of other people on your team can help to open your eyes to the way you’re acting.
3. Pay attention to your stress reactions
“On a good day, we can play nice with anyone,” shares Patti, “Yet, when we’re frustrated and under stress, our core traits come flying out.”
“Most of us act out when we are stressed, which will contribute to bringing out our worst behaviors,” adds Elster. “We need to know what our stress reactions might be.”
Pay close attention to how your attitude and behavior change when you’re placed in a high pressure situation. For example, do you become extra pushy and controlling when you’re working with a tight deadline?
Anticipating that reaction will help you to more proactively manage it.
4. Stop judging
When you realize that you’ve been acting like a straight-up jerk in the office, it’s human nature to start beating yourself up. But, resist the temptation to drag yourself over the coals.
“Stop judging things as good or bad—your behaviors or other people’s,” warns Borysenko. “The minute we see something as ‘bad’ we try to fight against it, but that’s usually just not productive. Anytime you find yourself judging, take a step back, breathe, consider your goals, and look for the best way to bring others along to achieve them.”
5. Frequently step back and examine your own role
No one sets out to behave in bad ways; we all try to work in ways that are comfortable for us. So, unless you’re a psychopath (they do well at work!) there’s a good chance that the behaviors that you assume to be harmless could be the very things that are pushing your co-workers away.
Be aware of these common toxic behaviors and implement these tips to become more aware of your own actions, and you’re much more likely to tackle the important task of turning your reputation around.
Remember that you often get back the reactions you put out there: if you’re doing a lot of eye-rolling yourself, you’re more likely to get eye-rolls from others in return. If you’re complaining a lot, people are complaining about you.
Above all: be authentic. Putting on an act to seem like a different person takes a lot of energy, won’t make you feel better and most of your colleagues are likely to see right through it anyway. Most of the time, unless we’re Oscar-nominated actors, we’re not fooling anyone by pretending. Be sincere in your words and actions, and treat people with the respect they deserve.
“You can be the smartest person in the room, but if no one likes you or no one wants to work with you, your reputation is going to be hurt,” concludes Elster. “Behavior matters.”