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4 Work Habits That Make You Seem Incompetent

By Maurie Backman - Oct 19, 2017 at 6:36AM

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Don't fall into these traps. Otherwise, your reputation might take a beating.

Whether you're vying for a promotion at work or simply want to get in your manager's good graces, a can-do attitude is essential to getting ahead. On the other hand, giving your boss or colleagues reason to believe you're not up to work-related challenges can hurt your career and put you at a severe disadvantage. With that in mind, here are a few common habits that can make you come off as incompetent -- so you'll want to avoid them at all costs.

1. Frequent tardiness

It's one thing to oversleep on occasion or run into train trouble that causes you to get delayed. But if you have a tendency to show up late to work all the time, or frequently enough that others notice, then you're more likely than not to be regarded as incompetent. After all, if you can't manage to set an alarm clock and properly estimate your commute time, how can you be trusted to oversee accounts or tackle major presentations? Though you may need to alter your morning routine, don't make the mistake of being late to work multiple times a week. Getting up 20 minutes earlier could be just the thing to salvage your career.

Man burying his head in his laptop and holding a flag reading "help"

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Looking unkempt

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but if you can't get your act together enough to look the part at work, it can end up hurting you. Even if your company offers a casual dress code, it still pays to show up in non-ripped clothing with some semblance of having been laundered in recent weeks. And if your company insists on formal attire, arrive with your slacks pressed and your shirt tucked in. Walking around looking sloppy will make you appear as though you're incapable of putting together a proper outfit. And if you can't pull that off, who's to say how you might handle an important project or task?

3. A defeatist attitude

It's natural to shake your head and push back when your boss marches in and asks you to pull together a report by end-of-day that would normally take you hours upon hours to compile. But rather than throw your hands up in the air and insist that it can't be done, take a step back and see if there's another option at play. For example, you might suggest that your boss allow you to isolate key statistics within a few hours' time, but work on pulling the remaining data the following day. Or, you might respond along the lines of: "That's a big ask, but if I pull Mike and Bob over to help, we'll be able to hammer it out for you today." The key is to apply a positive attitude to otherwise challenging situations, and suggest workarounds rather than give up.

4. Relying too heavily on your manager or team

There's no reason you shouldn't enlist the help of your coworkers or boss when you're stumped by a difficult task or feel you need additional resources to meet deadlines. But there's a difference between strategically asking for assistance and constantly running to others to solve your problems. As a general rule, you should always try to tackle issues on your own before falling back on others. Knowing your limitations is a good thing in theory, but if you approach others for help without having first tried on your own, you're apt to appear incompetent.

Of all the qualities your boss or colleagues might attribute to you, incompetence is one you want to avoid. Steer clear of these blunders, and you'll be helping your reputation immensely.

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