You've worked hard to build your career, but despite your best professional efforts, a few bad habits may still be chipping away at your success. Don't undermine your professionalism by actions done on auto-pilot that could convey uncertainty or insecurity. Read on for common habits to avoid and/or correct in the office environment (by the way, men can be just as guilty in many of these areas).
1. Ending a statement of fact or opinion with a question mark. You are included in a meeting because your partners feel you have something important to offer. Offering input as if you are asking a question is a sign that you lack confidence and are questioning if your remark is true or believable. Own what you say by using the appropriate inflection, avoiding a low tone of voice and speaking with confidence. "I am taking the train to New Jersey for the meeting, and I plan to pick up the contract at 5:00 pm." Versus, "I am taking the train to New Jersey for the meeting? I plan to pick up the contract at 5:00 pm?" One is a direct statement and the other sounds as if you are asking permission.
2. Apologizing for your opinion. You are expected to add value to the company by confidently sharing your opinion at a business meeting. Don't diminish your viewpoint by saying, "I'm sorry to say this, but I think we should take a closer look at this project before moving forward." If you have an opinion, state it clearly and with assurance. Your input will be received more positively without an apology attached.
3. Opening a presentation with, "I'm so nervous!" and closing with, "Whew, I'm glad that's over!" The way you begin and end a presentation sets the tone for how others view your knowledge and credibility. Don't overlook the value of a strong introduction and a powerful closing statement. You have only a few seconds to capture the audience and leave them wanting more. Spend as much time on the introduction and closing as you do on the content.
4. Be aware of your body language. When you're uncomfortable, nervous habits often come to the surface. Fidgeting with your hair, adjusting your shirt, covering your mouth when you speak or clenching your hands in your lap indicates that you are unsure of yourself. Read more about Body Language Etiquette and Non-Verbal Messages on my blog.
5. Dressing unprofessionally. It's a fact that people judge you based on what they see. Walking into a board meeting wearing a skirt that is uncomfortably short or a blouse that's extremely low, is sending a very clear message -- and not one that an aspiring executive wants to send! Check your corporate guidelines to make sure your business attire is appropriate; strive to be noticed for your accomplishments rather than your physical attributes.
6. Asking, "Did I make any sense?" after adding your professional input. Doing this is another way of derailing your credibility. An alternative response that encourages feedback and further conversation is, "Are there any questions?" This positions you as knowledgeable, rather than uncertain. Another way to get people involved is to say, "I'm interested in your thoughts. John, may I start with you?"
7. Downplaying your achievements. When you receive a compliment, an acknowledgement or an award, accept it graciously. Instead of saying, "It was nothing." Or, "Oh, it was just good luck that I landed the Johnson account!" respond sincerely. An example would be, "Thank you for your support. I was determined to be thorough in my research and I'm pleased that my efforts paid off." It's important to portray yourself in a positive light while appearing appreciative and humble as opposed to arrogant and boastful.