5 Ways to Get Yourself Out of a Career Rut

Jul 09, 2012 -
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Do you feel like you should be further along in your career? Have you received performance reviews and felt disappointed that you didn't rate better? Are you stuck or frustrated in your job? You could be engaging in what a recent survey calls "career-limiting habits." The study found that 97 percent of employees described themselves as possessing at least one of these five traits: (1) unreliability, (2) responding with "it's not my job," (3) procrastination, (4) resistance to change, or (5) projecting a negative attitude. Their bosses believed fewer than 1 in 5 employees would actually make the changes in their behavior that could boost their careers. If you find yourself in a professional rut and think a career-limiting behavior may be holding you back, consider these five ways to pull yourself out:

1. Look where you're going

Name your desired outcome. Put pen to paper and record where, specifically, you want to go next in your career. Give yourself a date by which you want to accomplish this goal. Does your current position help or hinder you in reaching your goal? Writing your vision helps you articulate where you'd like to be and may help you identify why you're stuck. Namely, you may be in a dead-end job that's not helping you progress. Stay positive, engaged, and committed by keeping this goal statement in front of you where you can read it daily.

2. Name what's stopping you

Write down the obstacles that are standing in your way. What's bugging you about the job? Take a few minutes to air all of your grievances (to yourself!) in writing. Next, organize them into three categories: those within your control, those you may be able to influence, and those out of your control. Put a big slash mark through the obstacle that are out of your control entirely. Now brainstorm what you can do to overcome the remaining ones. By focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can't, helps counteract negative feelings and behaviors that are keeping you stuck.

3. Adopt a new communication style

Pay attention to your own communication style. Are you assertive? Are you a quiet thinker and planner? Do you talk before you think? Next, pay attention to your boss's style. If your boss is direct and "get it done" but you need time to process information and plan, you may come across to her as slow, procrastinating, or even resistant to feedback or authority. Modify your approach to match the boss's style. Use the same words your boss uses, match her tone and approach to the degree you can. Mismatched communication styles lead to many misunderstandings about effectiveness and intention.

4. Try on a new you

Trying different things to see what works and what doesn't can be fun, if you take the attitude that this is an opportunity to learn. Seek outside experts or inside mentors to talk to about your options for changing. Ask for advice and feedback on what you are doing right and where you might need to modify your behavior. Take a look around the culture--who succeeds and why? Become like a curious detective, look for "clues" to get unstuck and picking up tips all around you. Try out a new behavior--such as coming in early, or volunteering for a hated task--and observe how others react and how it makes you feel.

5. Don't be a Debbie Downer

Think the boss is a jerk? Hate the company culture? Can't stand the people in the corner offices? The more you tell yourself how horrible they are, the more you will respond negatively in your behavior. Remember that most people, including company leaders, haven't had the chance to learn good leadership skills. They are often doing the best they can. Try to give them a break. Make it your job or your role to be helpful to them and to the company overall. If you find you just can't stand the person or people in charge no matter what you try, it might be time to find another job. Remember that we often control the perception of people around us more than we think. Take these steps to turn your career-limiting behaviors into career-enhancing habits--so you can look forward to your next performance review. Beverly Flaxington is a business advisor specializing in individual and organizational behavioral change, and the award-winning author of five books, including her newest, Make Your SHIFT: The Five Most Powerful Moves You Can Make to Get Where YOU Want to Go (ATA Press, 2012).