H Is For Habit


Habits are tricky because it can take a long time to acquire a good habit and much harder and longer usually to stop a bad habit. Surprisingly some people have a blind spot to their habits which can frustrate coworkers, family members, and friends. I conduct an exercise where each participant has to text someone to ask them what one of their bad habits is. While they are waiting for a response, they write down five good habits such as brushing their teeth twice a day, drinking a lot of water, and exercising. When they receive the text some are a bit puzzled, others laugh and say they are not surprised, and some are so embarrassed that they will not share with the rest of the group.

The issue is that there are many facets to a person but our habits tend to get overlooked, especially in the work environment. The problem is that these habits grow roots and then they become an established piece of our lives. I have had several business leaders come to me totally baffled on what to do with staff members who have some bad habits. Examples are always having to have the last word, tapping their pen, saying “um” or some other expression ad nauseam, interrupting, etc. Some just write it off as “that is just Jim or Sue” but for others it really bothers them which in turn makes the workplace toxic.

Bad habits also rear their ugly heads in interviews. Part of my role as a career coach is to work with my clients on their interview skills. I have had to point out to some that they play with their hair or flick it back when they answer a question. I have had several who either look to the right or up when pondering how to respond to a question but that hinders good eye contact. Other bad habits are picking at their fingernails or other body parts, adjusting their clothing, slouching, and either talking too much or having huge pauses. In many cases, the person does not know they are even doing it because it is a habit that they have had for a long time!

When I conduct references on candidates, many times the person I am speaking with will comment on behaviors and habits versus the candidate’s technical skills. I have also had to conduct 360 assessments on employees and leaders and inevitably a bad habit or two will be mentioned. The bottom line is that people are aware of your habits.

Considering we are viewed holistically (another H word) in our professional and personal lives, it is imperative that we realize that although habits (good or bad) may only be a piece of who we are, they still can hurt our career not just in the short-term but much longer. Consider also your personal bad habits such as eating poorly and not exercising; they can make you not sleep well resulting in you not performing your best consistently at work. Take the time to identify those habits that may be hurting you, write them down, and then make a plan to correct one bad habit. It can take anywhere from 21 to 250 days to create or change a habit so be patient and get support from others. Your career depends on it.