If you’re talented, skilled, and putting your all into your career but not rising as fast as others in the company or in your peer group, you might be wondering just what the problem is. According to Shaun Belding, CEO of The Belding Group of Companies and author of Journey to WOW, the problem might be that you have a reputation as a negative person around the office.
You might not even be aware of your reputation. Why? It’s pretty easy to be negative without realizing it, and Belding says there are two words that can creep their way into everyday vocabulary and cement your reputation: No and Actually.
Let’s take a look at these two words, and how you can change your behaviors, improve your emotional intelligence, become more self-aware, and hopefully get your career moving again.
Say No to No
There are always times in our lives when we are going to have to say no, whether that’s at work, to family, or to friends. Even when you have to say no at work, though, you can—and should—do it in a way that doesn’t perpetually cast you in the role of Negative Nancy or Negative Ned.
Belding explains that people might not even realize they are always saying no—because they end up saying yes in the end. Think about it for a second. Do you ever find yourself telling a colleague that an idea is just not possible, only to have them keep explaining or offer a slight adaptation that you eventually say yes to? Have you ever been the colleague put in the position of continually being told no, only to be told it might actually work after all?
If you consistently find yourself automatically replying no before offering other alternatives or asking more questions, people will just stop coming to you—and they will not think of you as someone with their (or the company’s) best interests in mind. And worse, you certainly won’t be considered the “go-to” person.
How can you change this?
Don’t make “no” your default anymore. Instead, Belding suggests seeking more information about the project or offering an alternative. Don’t start your sentence with no—start it with an affirmation or a question. As an example: “Thanks for bringing this idea to me; what kind of resources do you think it would take to make it work?”
To keep this strategy top of mind, Belding recommends keeping the Rolling Stones in mind:
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
If you ask questions, offer positive affirmation, and are open to working with people, you’re likely to get them to a place where they get what they need from you; and you are more likely to be seen as a positive, cooperative person—not just Dr. No.
But, Actually …
Do you think of the word actually as a negative word? I really didn’t until I spoke with Belding. He explained, though, that while the word itself isn’t negative, it is nearly always used in a context that is. He calls this “invisible language,” as it provokes a negative emotion without ever being outright negative.
Think about it … when someone replies to you with a sentence that begins, “Well, actually …” you know what comes next is not going to make you feel better about yourself. It’s most likely going to make you feel stupid, embarrassed, or at the very least, defensive.
In the workplace, making people feel stupid is never good. It positions you as self-important and as a critic—and both are a far cry from the team player that you must strive to be if you want to advance up the company ladder.
“There is never a benefit to making someone feel stupid,” Belding emphasizes.
So what can you do? Instead of reflexively saying, “Actually …”, take a beat to consider how important the correction you are about to make is. Does it really need to be made? Belding says making a correction will often not be necessary, but if it is you can absolutely find ways to rephrase it so that people don’t feel stupid. One alternative is, “Have you thought about it this way?”, or just following up with another question that gives you more information to work with as you reframe your correction.
Do People Really Notice These Things in Corporate America’s High-Pressure World?
In short, yes. Belding shared the story of a bright, insightful company vice president for whom Belding had a lot of respect. However, this particular person had a bad habit of always seeing the negative—and vocalizing it. Doing so in meetings became what he was known for, and despite all his talent, the person was let go—and this happened at two different jobs he’d held. He didn’t realize what he was doing until it was too late.
Belding himself even unintentionally sabotaged his career through negativity. He was called out for it by a boss, but because the boss didn’t use his name and Belding wasn’t self-aware, he didn’t put two and two together until years later. When he realized it, he was acutely embarrassed at how he’d acted in the workplace. Don’t let this happen to you; assess your behavior now, and make the necessary changes.
Although people notice negativity, the opposite is also true—people notice positivity and enthusiasm. From the highest levels of the C-suite to the executive assistants at an organization, everyone ends up identifying the positive people who just make the day better and seem interested in helping out and improving the company overall.
Belding sums up the importance of a positive reputation like this:
“The thing about success is you can be as skilled at your job as anyone in your world, but if you can’t get along with people, then you are going to limit your job in so many ways.”
So if your career isn’t moving as fast as you’d like it to, take a step back, look in the mirror, and take a pause during workplace conversations and when drafting e-mails. You might be surprised at how often two seemingly innocuous words are creeping into your vocabulary and sabotaging your career.
Emotional intelligence is more than a buzzword—it’s a path to success.
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About the author
Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast
Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.
What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.
You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!
I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!
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