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Where Do You Get In Your Own Way?

Posted By NCHRA Blog Editor for Guest Contributor to the HR+ Blog, Wednesday, September 07, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Contributed by Mike Normant

Do any of these tendencies seem like you?

  • I frequently interrupt others when they are speaking.
  • I am too easily distracted (emails, texts, etc.) during meetings and/or conversations.
  • I talk too much in meetings (i.e., I “take up too much space”).
  • I don’t speak up in meetings (even when something wants to be said).

These are just a few examples of “self-limiting behaviors.” Whether or not you personally relate to these patterns, it’s likely that you know someone who exhibits one or more of them. And I’d bet that it’s easy to see how such behavior can block someone from reaching her/his potential.

What if you turn the mirror back on yourself? If you aspire to reach your fullest potential, it’s helpful to identify and begin to work on shifting your own self-limiting behaviors!

In this article, I will:

  • Provide some context about the importance of working on self-limiting behaviors.
  • Share a list of common self-limiting behaviors.
  • Suggest some action items to use these ideas to help yourself, your team, and your organization.

Behaviors and Professional/Personal Development

Many companies ask their employees to identify development/growth goals in two areas. The first is “The What”, or technical/functional skills. The second is “The How”, which are more behavioral and soft-skill oriented.

It’s easy for employees to identify development areas associated with “The What”. However, many people struggle with identifying behaviors to work on (The How). Those of us in the HR arena know that “how” a person shows up at work has huge implications for her/his overall career success

Think of someone you know that frequently interrupts others. It’s pretty easy to imagine how their baseline career “trajectory” will be constrained if s/he doesn’t work on that self-limiting behavior.

Now imagine a different trajectory if that person starts to make small shifts toward becoming a better listener.  How much more of their potential will they realize in 6 months? A year? Five years?

How many more career-enhancing opportunities may be presented to that person because they are engaged more productively in meetings, or within teams or with their direct reports?

By making small shifts in our behavior we are literally “bending our future” toward realizing more of our potential and being our best selves. 

I want to acknowledge you readers who embrace an emphasis on developing strengths. I’m a huge fan of strengths-based development. And I also believe that each of us has self-limiting behaviors that warrant attention.

By the way, behavior may be a loaded word for some people. I use this word literally and non-judgmentally: “the way in which one acts or conducts oneself.”

It may seem obvious, but most of us don’t simply decide to change a behavior and make it so. We must first acknowledge that one or more of our behaviors (that may have served us in our past!) are now detrimental to our success, whether at work or in our personal life. This requires self-observation and the willingness to identify behaviors that don’t serve us well.

We must also recognize that this will push us out of our comfort zone and will hence often trigger fear and internal resistance. This work is important but not easy.

Example Self-Limiting Behaviors

As noted, it’s often difficult for individuals to identify behaviors that they want to change. Below I’ve listed some relatively common self-limiting behaviors for your review. This list can also be shared with employees to help get them thinking about this topic.

Check out the list below. Do you see yourself in any of these statements? Here’s a hint: don’t beat yourself up….be curious!

  • I frequently interrupt others when they’re speaking.
  • I don’t listen to others when they’re speaking.
  • I succumb too easily to distractions (emails, text messages, etc.) during group meetings.
  • I succumb too easily to distractions (emails, text messages, etc.) during 1:1 conversations.
  • I’m unable to say “no” (when it’s a viable and reasonable option).
  • I talk too much in meetings (i.e., I “take up too much space”).
  • I don’t speak up in meetings (even when something wants to be said).
  • I speak too softly.
  • I solicit the input of others with no intention of changing my position.
  • I take credit for the work of others.
  • I blame others when things go wrong.
  • I talk about others behind their backs.
  • I react too negatively / emotionally when issues arise.
  • I get frustrated too easily / often.
  • I complain a lot.
  • I’m unable / lack confidence to make decisions.
  • I’m condescending and/or dismissive of others.
  • I frequently ‘bully’ others until they acknowledge that I am right.
  • I am consistently late.
  • I treat people as objects (lack of empathy).
  • I don’t solicit advice or help from others when it would help me to do so.

It is common for people to identify with multiple behaviors on this list. However, it’s also normal to not identify with any of the behaviors listed. While it’s possible to not have any self-limiting behaviors, I’ve not yet met anybody who matches that description. 

One way to push through uncertainty is to consider soliciting feedback from people you trust. Ask them to help identify one or more self-limiting behaviors they see that may be in your ‘blind spot.’

Call to Action

I hope you’ll agree that if we aspire to unlock more of our potential, it serves us to always be working on our personal/professional development. This includes addressing our self-limiting behaviors.

These behaviors influence how we impact and are perceived by others. Imagine how powerful it would be for you to minimize, or even remove, one or more of these self-imposed barriers from your life.

Here are some ways you can get value out of the ideas shared in this post.

  • Choose one(!) self-limiting behavior and commit to working on it for at least a few months.
    • Research shows that we are more likely to succeed with behavioral change if we are focused in our efforts.
    • If you can’t think of any self-limiting behaviors that apply to you, consider sharing the list above with colleagues you trust to give you candid feedback. You likely have one or more self-limiting behaviors hiding in your blind spot.
  • Document your goal / intentions somewhere (e.g., personal journal, formal development planning tool).
    • Research shows that the simple act of writing down our intentions increases the likelihood that we will follow through.
  • Share your goal / intentions with one or more trusted colleagues / friends who can help hold you accountable.
    • Expanding the sphere of accountability will help you stick with your plans. You’re not only more likely to stick with it if you’ve shared it with others, you can ask for support from those people as well.
  • Share this list with your team or department, and encourage others to join you / start a larger dialogue. “How can we help each other be more effective at working with each other?”
    • This can be a simple process of encouraging everyone, in the spirit of being his or her best self, to be working on a self-limiting behavior.
    • This helps to create an environment where employees can become more comfortable being vulnerable and feeling like the team/organization is supporting their ongoing development.
    • Here’s a clean one-pager that you can use to share this information with others.

About the Author

Mike Normant is a leadership trainer and executive coach with a 25-year corporate career including running the global Learning & Development functions at both eBay and ServiceSource. His current passion is to help people unlock their fullest potential by removing self-limiting barriers.  His flagship training program, Coach Your Self Up, is bringing the revolutionary concept of Self-Coaching into organizations, allowing them to experience higher levels of employee effectiveness, engagement, and retention. He also works as a leadership coach with individual business leaders. You can reach Mike and/or sign up for his email newsletter on his website,


Tags:  executive coaching  HR leadership training  self-coaching 

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