Overcoming Your Saboteur


Saboteurs … we all have them: quirks that make us doubt our knowledge, skills, and abilities; second guess our worth, or fear the unknown (even though the unknown is what will move us toward our ultimate goals). Most of us have learned to slay the saboteurs in our personal lives, either through a desire to improve ourselves, or through outside motivation (friends or loved ones who care enough to tell us the truth). But do we have the same level of awareness and recognition for self-sabotage in our work-life?

Sabotage manifests itself in our work-life through defensiveness, frustration, jealously, and meekness. See if any of these scenarios sound familiar:

  • Someone on your team gets promoted. You are genuinely happy for them … at least you want to be. So why do you keep asking why they were promoted instead of you?
  • You are on a team of 8–10 people. There are two distinct cliques (yes, these do exist outside of high school) and you’re not included in either, which irritates you.
  • You are a subject matter expert on a given issue, yet your supervisor always asks someone else on your team (someone with less experience) questions instead of you.
  • You are in a team meeting and your boss is presenting data you know is incorrect. Your boss doesn’t like being corrected so you say nothing during the meeting or afterwards, offline.
  • Your coworker questions data you have collected that you have checked and rechecked. You tell them you’re not an idiot and walk away.

The first step in overcoming your saboteur is recognizing situations that make you feel angry, frustrated, or left out. Once you identify the situations, focus on two things: how you feel, and why you feel the way you do. Let’s take the scenario of the coworker’s promotion: what’s the root of your frustration? Have you been consciously trying to get promoted, or have you been walking around with the expectation that someone will reward your hard work by handing you an unsolicited promotion?  Bottom line: expecting people to see past the obvious (you want to do a good job) to your underlying motivation (getting promoted) isn’t practical: only you know what you want. You must be clear with the people who are in positions to move your career forward, wherever you want to go.

After you’ve recognized how and why you feel the way you do, you have to decide how you’re going to change how you feel, why you feel, or how you react, or all three. In the scenario about the coworker questioning your data, ask yourself why you reacted so harshly: do coworkers frequently question your work (and if so, why), or were you frustrated because you were tired of looking at the data and were glad to be finished with the project? Once you know why you reacted the way you did, assess how you could have handled the situation differently. You could have simply said, “‘I checked, and rechecked the information numerous times, what are you concerned about’”? Or you could have queried your coworker about why they have concerns about the data. In both cases, you are changing your response from a reactionary stance to a proactive state.

So what do you do if don’t recognize your saboteur? Ask for feedback from your colleagues and coworkers. Now be warned: you may not like the feedback (or ready to hear the truth); however, remember the ultimate goal: banishing your saboteur. Be open-minded, but also be specific in your questioning:

  • Do you cut people off when they talk?
  • How do you react to constructive criticism?
  • Do you listen to what people say or are you always on the defense?
  • Do you have habits in meetings that show your frustration, annoyance, or boredom (tapping your pen, rolling your eyes, doodling)?
  • Are willing to help others with their projects, or do you see them as distractions?

Know that each answer you receive will help you zero in on what you need to improve. Recognizing and acknowledging your saboteur and changing how you react to it takes clarity, self-awareness, and courage.  And while it likely won’t be easy, keep in mind that removing as many obstacles that are hindering your success can only help you win big.

Kim Martin-Haynes is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Violet Ungemach

Hi Kim, Awesome post! As a soon to be college graduate this is a helpful post to keep in mind as I am almost ready to start a full time position. I think it is safe to say that everyone can relate to one or two of your situation examples. I appreciate you making light of these situations and sharing how to overcome them, thanks!