3 Ways Men Undermine Themselves at Work

Apr 16, 2012
7 Min Read

Are you one of those men who favors the use of sports analogies to explain everything from giving birth to taking over a third world country? Do you find nothing wrong with the fact that you chew your nails, tell dirty jokes and leave the toilet seat up?

If so, you may fit right in with the 12-year-olds at soccer camp, but in the world of work,you stick out like a foul-mouthed, ragged-nail, thoughtless slob who should never be put in charge of anything and certainly never worked with closely if it can be helped.

It’s something men don’t often realize: Their personal habits are often just offensive enough that women will avoid working with them. That means any great project spearheaded by a woman may omit such a man. Any female boss is likely to think twice about sending a man wearing a tie from 1985 and too much Aramis to meet with an important client.

While the majority of leaders (64%) are still men, a recent Zenger/Folkman survey found that women are ranked higher when it comes to what are seen as the competencies of top leaders: inspiring and motivating behavior; a talent for building relationships; and an ability to collaborate.

Many of those top competencies are because women often are more aware of how their personal behavior – from body language to grooming habits – affect those around them. While they are sometimes too attuned to others and squash some of their own assertiveness, their ability to put others at ease and encourage conversation are qualities more men should try to emulate.

For example, men may believe they’re doing nothing wrong when they crack their knuckles – or some other body part – in a meeting and don’t see why clipping their nails at their desk is such a big deal.

But every crack…crack….snip! is recorded by a woman. She notices smells – whether it’s your onion breath or the backpack that smells like the bottom of a gym locker – and that doesn’t encourage her to stop and chat with you about a big new project. She thinks that leaving the toilet seat up in a unisex bathroom signals disregard for others, so does she want you on her team with a big client?

If you’re a man, it’s time to get a clue about all the “no big deal” things that are definitely a big deal and may be stopping you from getting ahead. Among them:

• An inability to tie a tie. If your tie is uneven with a knot as big as your fist – or barely a knot at all – you need to get yourself to a department store where the guy in the suit department can give you a lesson. If your colleagues at work feel you can’t even tie a tie, they may wonder what other task are you unable to fulfill. And while you’re at it, make sure you keep your wardrobe updated – wearing a jacket not seen since Starsky and Hutch hit the streets may make you seem out of touch and worry higher-ups who expect you to keep abreast of current trends in the marketplace. Shoes are also a big deal. Bad shoes mean you’re clueless. Enough said.

• Cussing. Profanity may be part of everyday office life, but it’s one thing to utter an expletive when you accidentally staple your finger, and it’s a completely different thing if you sound like Robert de Niro in “Goodfellas.” And never, never, never call a woman the “b” word. Or anything else that is a derogatory name for a female. Not even if you believe she is the biggest one on the planet. While it may be a double standard that women can call other women such names and get by with it, you will automatically be labeled a jerk and top brass may see you as unfit to have a position of authority.

• Relating everything to sports. Lots of people love sports, and fantasy sports teams provide fun times in the office. But talking about Tim Tebow, Tiger Woods and Albert Pujols every time you want to make a point makes you seem one dimensional. Remember, one of the reasons women are seen as good communicators is because they give the impression they’re relating to their listeners. Some people could care less that you think Bubba Watson embodies a life lesson on persistence, so keep your audience in mind.

Finally, don’t be afraid to show more of your true self at work. (No, not the new tattoo you just got of Bubba.) But if you’re moved that colleagues remembered your birthday with cake and ice cream, don’t try to cover it up with some neck cracking and a few choice swear words. Let them see you’re touched, and you’ll have forged a bridge that will help overcome that tacky tie.

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