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Ten Behaviors That Could Get You Fired

Nonverbal Behaviors that are "You’re Fired!" worthy
8 Ways You’re Telling Your Boss, "I Don't Want to be Here"

By Speaker and Consultant Patti Wood, MA

Sometimes you are unaware of how you look to others, or you don't think what you are doing or not doing at work is noticed.  But, your behavior is not invisible. What you do says volumes about you. What you don't do can also lead to people thinking your incompetent. When you try to keep your head down and not waste time talking to others, your lack of interaction and face time invisibly tends to make others guess at who you are and what your motivations are. Those guesses, according to research, tend to be negative perceptions about you, as in, "He never speaks up in meetings; he is just too lazy to care." Or, "All I get from him are one-line emails asking me for something; he is such a jerk." What behaviors do you do or not do that are dangerous to your job security? I was inspired to write this article after being interviewed by US News and World Report for the article, 8 Ways You're Telling Your Boss, "I Don't Want to be Here."

Following are people's perceptions toward behaviors. These are perceptions that could result in a less-than-stellar view of you in the workplace, and that could result in your management taking actions based on their perceptions, even so far as to remove you from your position.

1. Your posture is slumped down, informal and relaxed. 

Brian had been texting his team until 2:00 in the morning. He was tired and it was not his turn to talk so he slumped in his chair to rest up. 

Remember when your mom would chastise you when you made a rude facial expression, saying, "Don’t make a face like that or your face will freeze like that"? Have you noticed how your body language suddenly changes when you get out of your sweatpants into a suit and hard-soled shoes? Our bodies form in the way we hold and move them the most. We now spend the majority of our waking hours on our couches or in our cubicle and chair bent down and curled over our devices more than seven hours a day, on average. We forget we are very visible and all that slumping over in our muscle memory makes it harder to sit up straight! Have someone snap a photo of you hunched over your computer or tape you talking on the phone or watching TV. Now imagine your boss seeing you sit like that with him or her in a meeting. (Another incentive for not constantly checking your phone is research that shows that looking down at your phone can put a strain on your neck equivalent to the weight of 60 pounds.)  

2. You don’t give your full attention to your boss, from the feet up. 

Cam didn’t really like his boss and didn’t appreciate how he would go on and on. Without realizing it, when he would meet his boss in the hallway or sit in meetings with his boss, he would turn his lower body and feet away from his boss and toward the nearest exit route, ready to run as soon as his boss finished speaking. 

Interacting face-to-face or on the phone or via conference calls while doing something else, like checking your emails and texts, may seem a good use of your time, but your voice or body language might be sending messages to those you work with that you don’t really care. One specific non-verbal behavior area to focus on is your feet. Your feet are most frequently controlled by the limbic brain, so they reveal where you really want to be. For example, if you are in a meeting but really want to be back at your desk getting other work done, your feet may point toward the door. You might think that is a subtle cue that others couldn’t possibly notice, but where your feet point actually affects the rest of your body’s alignment. To be more present and train yourself to be fully attentive, point your feet and the rest of your body toward the speaker. (There are gender-based differences regarding how we like to have close, high-self-disclosure conversations but, generally, if you’re giving attention to a speaker at a meeting or your boss when he is speaking, point your feet toward him or her.)

3. You don’t get to the meeting a little early to talk and stay after the meeting to visit and debrief. 

Karl had a lot of irons in the fire and meeting with the team to go over progress every week and make small talk seemed like a big waste and, honestly, made him feel awkward because he didn’t know how to chit-chat. He was not a time waster, so he worked every minute up until the meeting started and, as soon as it was over, he grabbed his cell phone while still seated to check his messages. He was polite about checking his phone because, as he grabbed it, he would say, "I have to check my messages."

Beginnings and endings are critical. By spending time visiting with people BEFORE the formal meeting begins and not getting up and leaving quickly or checking your phone while there is still someone with you (and you haven’t visited and said good-bye), you are saying non-verbally, "I am done with you and now I have more important things to do." The time you spend visiting and interacting face-to-face can be extremely valuable. It helps you establish rapport and get an emotional read of each person. This helps you make connections and alliances, and makes you look better and helps you persuade others to see your viewpoint. On a very basic level, it puts credits in the "relationship account" of each person with whom you interact so he or she knows you care.

4. You don’t turn off technology or put it away before talking, or you focus on technology when people are with you in person. 

Jim carries his phone with him everywhere. It’s in his right hand where he can glance at it often, and you see him walking down the halls on the phone. 

Your computer, electronic pad or smartphone is just one place you should be working. Just a few years ago, you looked like an important, busy and hardworking employee if you brought your phone with you everywhere and were checking it constantly. But that image has since changed. Now, you just look like you’re rude, and that you believe your time and your needs are more important than the person(s) you are with. Yes, even you. I know you are an extremely busy person getting hundreds of texts and/or emails that you must respond to, but think of your device as you would your 3-year-old child. Ask yourself when you are with a work contact, "Would I have my 3-year-old with me during this conversation at work?" If the answer is no, put the device away or don’t even bring it. Challenge yourself to change your behavior in four important ways:

  1. Remember the person in front of you is always more important than anything on your device. He or she is the real, live person.
  2. If you can, don’t take your technology with you, or keep it turned off and completely out of sight. Don’t put it on the desk between you and the other person.
  3. When you get to the meeting, if you have a device that is visible make it a ritual to pick it up, set it on silent, and put it out of your line of sight. I would even recommend that if you are meeting with one to three people and you want to let them know why you are doing that and/or want them to do the same, say out loud something like, "I am putting this away so I can focus on you." Or, "Let me turn this off and put this away while we talk." Or, "I want to focus on our conversation (or, this important meeting)."
  4. Don’t pull out the phone to check your messages at the end of the meeting if the people with whom you are meeting are still in the room. Say good-bye, get out of their visual and auditory field, and then check your messages. 

5. You only email or text; you don’t give face-to-face time to create trust. 

Nicole doesn’t really like one of her co-workers, Jess, and finds it easier if she insists that all their communication be by text. That way, she doesn’t have to hear Jess’s unwanted advice or demands, and she has a record of everything she has done for Jess or her reasons why it’s not her responsibility. 

Recent research by Gregory Northcraft, a professor in executive leadership at the University of Illinois, shows when projects are managed by way of detached, high-tech means rather than face-to-face, people will have less confidence that others will do what they say they’ll do. He says if your communication is mainly through email, coworkers will trust you less. Face-to-face contact yields the most trust and cooperation while e-mail nets the least, with videoconference interaction ranking somewhere in between. Your boss and coworkers need to be face-to- face to read the thousands of non-verbal cues that give them a read of you and help them decide the best way to interact with you. Nicole is not building a positive relationship with Jess. This, like our other examples here, is a real-life example. Guess what? Jess had the email trail as well, and Nicole’s boss was upset to learn that Nicole wasn’t taking the time to work with Jess but was, instead, making excuses and abdicating responsibility rather than doing her work and interacting positively with everyone on her team.

6. You are invisible; you keep your head down, don’t socialize and think your work speaks for itself. 

Karl was very good at his job. He came in early and left late, tried not to bother people during the day, and ate at his desk as he worked to be more productive.

You need to say hello or good-bye as you arrive or leave work. You also need to visit or socialize, speak up and contribute in meetings, ask for time to discuss projects face-to-face, go to lunch with your boss and team, and compliment others’ success or work effort. Again, face-to-face contact builds trust. A heavy workload can be lightened when you feel you’re working with others rather than avoiding others. Your boss is looking and listening for what you contribute to the group, so you need to participate and collaborate. If you don’t know what to say or are anxious about being correct in what you say, use a magic phrase to voice your thoughts such as, "Have we thought about…", "Did anyone mention…," or, "Another option we might want to consider is... ."

7. You are "Uber" brief and direct and focus on your needs first instead of considering the other person before you focus on yourself. 

Mark is a busy guy with a lot on his plate and feels he respects others’ time as well. He keeps his requests of others short and to-the-point. There’s no hello or talk about the weekend; just, "I need this by this time." 

Everybody is different. Some bosses and coworkers want you to think about them and be a person before you make a request. Texts and emails make direct requests seem cold and demanding, and make you look like an egotistical jerk. Whether in a phone call, an email, or a text, ask about the recipient or make a statement about them before you talk about yourself or make a request. You don’t have to do this every time with people you contact every day, and you don’t have to be verbose. Just one or two sentences are fine; this creates rapport and puts credits in the relationship account. Those extra salutations and sentences show, non-verbally, that the person you are sending a message to matters and that you have thought about them as an individual. It also helps others recognize you, gives you a personality, and makes you stand out. Remember – you don’t want to be invisible!

8. You’re purposefully late when you could be on time. 

Reese was busy and thought the Friday morning meetings were ridiculous and a waste of her valuable time. She would come in when she was through with her important work, and would be very sociable, greeting people by the coffee pot as she grabbed a coffee from the back of the room and caught up with people sitting next to her. She loved how everyone looked up and noticed when she came in; it showed they knew she was an important, busy person.

There are people who are late because they are adrenaline junkies or time-challenged or are having problems in their personal lives, but there are also people who are late as a form of passive-aggressive control over those they make late. This person is saying by arriving late, "I am more important than you" and, "You must wait for me."  There are no good reasons to constantly be late for work or work meetings.

9. You don’t respond to emails. 

Jim had way too much work to do and far too many people pestered him with unimportant things. He really didn’t have time for all those emails and sometimes he really didn’t know how to respond correctly. He paid attention to the important emails from clients, and thought if his coworker's issues were really important they would come and talk to him.

 If you don’t respond in any way to an email, people will make assumptions as to why. Remember: when you don’t give a reasonable behavior, people will guess why and those assumptions tend to be negative. If you put off answering or don’t respond, you could get yourself in trouble. At least say, "I will get back soon." Or, "I read your email and I will be responding soon." Otherwise, people think you just don’t care.

10. You don’t think about others when you get dressed for work. 

Chris was planning to lose weight and didn’t want to waste money on clothes. He saw his coworkers wearing khakis and casual shirts and that’s what he wore; he just didn’t need them to fit perfectly, or be so expensive, or fresh-pressed, or non-faded. He made an extra hole in his belt with a screwdriver so it still worked, and his shoes were old but his pants covered them, for the most part. No customers ever saw him, so all in all, really, his clothes didn’t matter.

News flash! You don’t dress just for you. How you dress shows your respect – or lack of respect – for others. It is actually discourteous to dress inappropriately for work. Other studies show that 75% of Americans think a well-dressed man is more successful than his causal coworkers and more than one-fifth of men think they would make more money if they dressed better than they do.

If you’re a woman, not wearing makeup might not get you fired, but it could still hurt you. Here’s more about this bonus 11th point:

11. You’re a woman who does not wear makeup. 

Samantha had been promoted to manager of her team. She had never worn makeup; she preferred to look natural and, after all, who has that kind of time in the morning?

Research shows people judge the beauty of a woman based on how much makeup she is wearing. Research quoted in the London Times said that, "64 percent of directors said that women who wore makeup looked more professional." Women who wear makeup also rank higher in competence and trustworthiness, according to a study funded by Procter & Gamble, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. A study in the American Economic Review said women who wear makeup can earn more than 30 percent more in pay than female employees who don’t wear makeup. Warning: don’t overdo it. Too much makeup can make it appear you are interested in dating and mating rather than your career.

Research says, Your Facebook-checking, constant-texting lifestyle may be taking a toll on your neck. Looking down at your phone can put a strain on your neck equivalent to the weight of 60 pounds, a study finds. To put that in perspective, 60 pounds is the weight of an 8-year-old or four bowling balls, the Atlantic reports. That's if you're leaning forward at a 60-degree angle; at 45 degrees, it's 49 pounds, while at 30 degrees, it's 40 pounds. Even at a 15-degree angle, you might as well be carrying 27 pounds of weight. 

That's because a human head weighs 10 to 12 pounds, and tilting it forward increases gravity's pull on it. All that tilting is, unsurprisingly, not good for your spine, researchers say after making their findings using a computer model of a spine. "These [cervical spine] stresses," they write, "may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries." Their advice, per CBS News: "While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over."