CAREER: Is Your Personality Holding You Back at Work?

By: Aaron Guerrero

After mastering the tasks associated with your position, you're confident it's only a matter of time before you advance up the company ladder. But your technical expertise isn't complimented by your personal work habits and interaction with others. Perpetual procrastination or occasional outbursts at colleagues may be keeping your boss from green-lighting a promotion.

Increasingly, companies are placing a premium on "soft skills" when deciding which employees to promote. According to a 2011 survey, 75 percent of hiring managers are more likely to promote an employee with high emotional intelligence – which CareerBuilder defines as the ability to control emotions, understand others and manage relationships – over one with a high IQ.

It's tough to pinpoint the definition of soft skills. "People use the term in different ways," says James Phills, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. "There are other terms that you can use like interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and so on, but it [relates to] the people part of the job," he says.

If you're unsure whether you need to improve this part of your professional profile, Bruce Clarke, president and CEO of CAI, Inc., a North Carolina-based human resources firm, advises that you ask yourself a series of questions:

1. Are you consulted by co-workers?

2. Are you asked to join teams?

3. Are you receiving assignments that require good listening or communication skills?

4. Are you permitted to interact with customers?

5. Do you enjoy engaging in work gossip?

6. Are you constantly involved in conflicts with colleagues?

If the answer is "no" to the first four questions and "yes" to the last two, it may be time to address the personal habits and traits that are stalling your career. Being a good listener, having empathy, clearly communicating, respecting colleagues and problem-solving are valuable traits to cultivate, Clarke says. Here are some ways you can do so.

Self-assess and self-manage. 

Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses to determine what may contribute to your poor set of soft skills. "[Turn] the mirror onto yourself and [have] a true reflection of how it is that people see you," says Peggy Klaus, an executive coach and author of "The Hard Truth About Soft Skills." Then employ a self-managing mechanism that regulates the poor trait. For example, you may be a great listener, she notes, but the moment your integrity is questioned, you shut down. Use your positive attribute to keep an open mind and properly deal with adversity.

Utilize your boss's well of wisdom. 

With years of deftly handling different personalities and building up quality work habits, your boss may be able to impart worthwhile knowledge. Listen to observations he or she may have regarding your unflattering quirks. "One of the best things a boss can do is provide timely feedback on concrete behavior," Phills says. If he or she points out your hesitancy to speak up during meetings, ask to have a more detailed conversation about what you can do to convey more confidence.

Take advantage of your relationship with co-workers. 

If you're on great terms with colleagues, ask for their input about what may be plaguing your chances for a promotion. You may struggle to sell the company higher-ups on a solid business idea, and co-workers with a track record of making successful pitches could give you key pointers that help change minds.

Find a truth-telling career coach or mentor. 

Out of fear of hurting your feelings, friendly colleagues and family members may offer false praise and paint a rosy picture of you. Career coaches or mentors without a personal connection are more inclined to give a less sugar-coated assessment. "It's really helpful to have someone outside of yourself, or a friend or family member who you respect, who can give you very clear, specific feedback," Klaus says. The person should have no agenda other than to help you be a better professional, she adds.

Attend formal workshops and programs. 

You may be willing to spend considerable amounts of time and money to improve your personality. Training programs, personal development workshops and executive education programs can help polish your people skills and managerial abilities. But before signing up, Phills advises using "a little bit of due diligence" when deciding what route to take. Consult with people in your network who may know about the resource.


Harming Your Career and the Company

If you refuse to refine personal shortcomings, you're not only damaging your personal career, but also the company you work for. The ability to delegate work and accomplish tasks with the help of others requires good soft skills, Clarke says, "but it holds the organization back when you have fewer and fewer people that you can count on to get things done in that fashion."

Aaron Guerrero is a freelance reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Follow him on twitter - @AaronGuerrero87