You can’t see the forest for the trees

Can't see the forest for the treesHave you ever noticed that you don’t notice how cluttered your house looks until you invite company over? That you don’t see how dirty the walls are until you put your house for sale? You don’t notice that your wardrobe is outdated until you watch “What Not To Wear”?

Likewise, you don’t see the things you do at work that are hurting your reputation, either.

So I’m going to point them out to you. You may not agree with me, and that’s fine, but I do want you to open your eyes to the possibility that I might be correct.

Here is my list of “This is hurting you at work”:

–       Having a messy (or too clean) desk. You’re right, I wrote an entire article about that last month, and if you missed it you can read it here (link). Too messy makes it look like you can’t handle the volume, and too clean makes it look like you’ve got nothing to do. Each of those messages can hurt your reputation.

–       Being a clock-watcher. If your hours at work are 9 to 5 and that is exactly the hours you work, you are hurting yourself. You won’t seem committed to the job. Don’t be the kind of person that walks in the door at 8:59 and is ready to go at 4:59, either. By the same token, don’t be working 12 hours each day either. Each of those extremes hurts your reputation.

–       Baking. You heard me correctly. If you are the one who is constantly remembering the birthday cakes and bringing in little snacks for everyone to enjoy, your reputation is that you’re the “mom” in the office – and not necessarily the office professional. At work, I want to be known as a competent professional. What I do outside of work shouldn’t cloud your viewpoint of my professional status. Learn to separate them. I am actually an excellent baker. But you won’t see me bring baking into your office when I show up. When you think of “Rhonda” I don’t want the first thing you think of to be my cheesecake (although it is awesome, if I say so myself).

–       Over-volunteering or under-volunteering. Yes, you should volunteer for things at work. High profile involvement, such as with the United Way or a Victim Relief fund is great. You should be involved in at least one volunteer committee at work. It demonstrates your commitment, your compassion, willingness to give back to society, and your investment in your organization. If they support a particular charity, perhaps you should as well. If you don’t volunteer for anything you risk the reputation of not seeming committed, or just being focused on the paycheque. My husband’s office has many committees. One that we support is the Make-A-Wish run each year; ON THE RIGHT TRACK puts in a running team, and we support it as both Warren and I are runners. It’s the same charity into which all the senior management staff put their time and effort as well. That sends a better message than being on the “jeans-to-work Friday” committee or—even worse—not volunteering for anything.

–       Being afraid to risk. Step outside your comfort zone. Do something new. Do something you don’t know how to do. Be willing to learn on the job. When I teach my Amazing Assistant program we have a module on problem solving. I give each team a problem to solve, with a prize for the winning team. One of the rules I enforce is that each team gets only one guess on what the root of the problem is. If they guess correctly, they win the prize. If they guess incorrectly, they cannot win the prize. Not a big risk, right? About 75% of the time, none of the teams makes a guess. They are so afraid of being wrong that they don’t risk. What risk is involved here? None! Risk. Sometimes you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

–       Your whimsical decorating style. Get rid of the stuffed animals, the bobble heads and the kitschy stuff on your desk. You are not a 10-year-old. Make your desk look like a professional works there, not a kid. A couple of personal photographs are fine. A couple of plants are fine. Four is too many! What message are you sending?  I know you think the message is that you are fun, and fun to be with. But that isn’t the message others are receiving, trust me on that one.

–       Complaining. Everyone needs to vent. It is normal and can be helpful.

However, a five-minute vent to your spouse is much more beneficial to your reputation than a one-hour lunchtime vent each day. I realize there may be a lot to complain about. But focus on what’s going well, not what isn’t. You will feel much better during the day, and your reputation will thank you for it. Yes, I complain too (I think I am right now, actually) but generally I want to be perceived as the positive force in the workplace, not the negative force. If people are coming to you only to vent and gossip, how do you think they perceive you?

–       Gossiping. I realize that gossip is highly entertaining, and that we live in a society that embraces it (why else would Keeping up with the Kardashians even be on television?). But just stop. If colleagues talk to you about other people at work, they talk about you to other people at work. Look in the mirror. Do you like that? I didn’t think so.

The reality is that we all do some of these things, sometimes. We’re only human. And I’m not saying you should be solely focused on your job. I do want you to be aware that it’s a healthy to have a bit of separation between your work and personal life.

I have many professional colleagues (especially my IAAP and CAPS friends) who cross the line from professional to personal. However, when we are in a work setting, we are professional with each other. We understand those boundaries. When we are in personal mode we don’t talk work. It’s like we have two separate relationships. Don’t let your personal life cross into your professional life. Look at your professional life through the eyes of a work acquaintance, and ask yourself, “What message are they really getting?”

I thought so.



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10 thoughts on “You can’t see the forest for the trees”

  1. Oh how the truth hurts. Very interesting and very true. I think on some level we all know these things, but try and push them aside(or at least that is true for me). Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Rhonda, great article! Is it okay to reprint in our chapter newsletter? We’ll be happy to put a paragraph about you that follows the article. Thanks!

  3. Fantastic points! Although, I did bring in a healthy dessert at one of my jobs, which got the attention of our CEO who was trying her hardest to break her sweet tooth. She was typically very busy and hard to connect with. But we spoke for an hour about food and ultimately, this dessert gained her trust.

  4. I like the touch of humor there Rhonda, you got me haha! But seriously, this article is well written and I totally agree. We should manage to take care of our reputation, especially in the workplace as there are boundaries between our personal and professional life.

  5. Interesting article. As I read it, I was mentally reviewing my time in the corporate world. I’d have to admit I never really thought about any of it, except that I rarely worked any overtime, though most of my co-workers did on a daily basis. It was always my opinion that I was there to get my work done in the allotted time and everything outside that belonged to my family.

  6. Having worked so many years in a hospital and really not having a space for myself, all I wanted was a DESK! We had spots at which to sit and chart but that was about it. In nursing, you become very close both at work and outside of work because teamwork is so important – but it was easy to distinguish when we were working and when we were playing.

    I’m so happy to have a desk now. 🙂

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