New Year Housekeeping

Many of us may have personal New Year’s resolutions –  lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking.

The New Year is also a chance to clean up and shed outmoded ways of thinking, feeling and behaving in your work life, especially if they are holding you back professionally.

It’s easy to get into a rut at work and repeat unproductive patterns of interacting with others and yourself – patterns that can actually limit you, emotionally, socially and professionally.

There are six common behaviours that can paralyze your professional growth:

1. Harbouring Resentments.
As the adage goes, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. The longer you work at an organization, the more time you have to collect hurts, slights and memories of unpleasant interactions with others. Some you can let go of but more significant issues are worth discussion. When you don’t bring your lingering complaints forward to those with whom you had the bad encounters, you end up hurting yourself. Asking yourself why it’s so important to play a victim role in your relationships is key to clearing out this tired old way of interacting with others. Often, a need to be in control explains why people hang on to resentments. Control is maintained through passive-aggressive behaviours. Looking at this issue will ensure that you are more proactive and assertive. Otherwise, you escape being accountable for your behaviour. Instead, you cast yourself as a victim. Maintaining this position will ensure that you either get hurt or cause others to avoid working with you. So – let the resentment go.

2. Defensiveness.
Reacting defensively to negative feedback is a typical communication pattern that should be sidelined. Instead, you should reflect on what the other person has told you. Most people will not bother to give feedback, as it takes courage (the receiver might not take it well) and an interest the working relationship, and many can’t be bothered. When you get feedback, see it as a gift. Seriously consider what applies to you and how you might use what you heard for your own benefit. By making excuses or deflecting what another is saying, you rob yourself of the opportunity to learn something new about yourself.

3. Negative Self Talk
Do you have an inner critic who tells you that you are stupid or calls you names when you make a mistake? Do you tell yourself that you are not competent or that things aren’t going to work out? Watching out for ways you undermine yourself is important to getting ahead, there’s no point in being your own worst enemy. Clearing up any tendency to self denigrate is a great way to begin the year.

4. Ledger Keeping
Good accounting practices are always welcome in any organization but should be kept in the payroll department. When interpersonal score keeping takes place, team work is stifled. Comparing how much you do against how little others do causes resentment and bitterness. If you find yourself pulling more than your weight, analyze why that’s happening. Was the company downsizing and handing you someone else’s job, as well as your own? Do you have trouble saying “No” when your plate is full? Or do other people know you’ll step up if they hang back a few minutes when an assignment is given? If you answered “yes” to these questions and tend to keep track of how you are “doing everything,” then you may have fallen into the trap of interpersonal ledger keeping. Instead, try not taking on extra assignments. Tell people you’ll have to pass this time or consider why it’s so important to overdo it at work. If, upon analysis you believe you would lose your job if you didn’t take on extra assignments, end the ledger keeping and tackle the work. Ledger keeping in this scenario will only add to your exhaustion.

5. Feuds and Grudges
Along with resentments, which you tend to internalize, and ledger keeping, which tends to be based on comparisons between yourself and others, there’s the harmful habit of keeping feuds going. If you have trouble resolving conflict with others and harbour bad feelings and revenge fantasies, it is highly challenging to work with the person you carry the grudge against. And it makes resolution impossible. Ending feuds and grudges helps clear out old, unproductive ways of behaving. If you need legitimate justice due to a grievance at work, find a constructive way to obtain it such as approaching your HR department, supervisor or union representative rather than taking revenge through sabotage or undermining behaviours, Transfer from the department if you can’t make the situation better for yourself or declare a cease-fire to hostilities.

6. Fears
What holds you back from taking a risk, trying something new or shedding outmoded ways of being? It’s likely a fear of some sort. Looking hard at your fears and letting them go helps clear out your emotional closet and work better with others. Also, your performance and productivity is based largely on the risks and challenges you are willing to take on. These can range from taking on a project that is a bit unfamiliar, to trying your hand at a completely new task or job. It can also mean taking the initiative to change your relationships at work or reflect on how you might like to change how you treat yourself.

The main point is to clear out the old ways of feeling and thinking by recognizing the benefits of change and making it happen before the year gets too old.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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