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One Solid Way to Fail, But Not Fall, in 2016

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I was thinking about the pressure we're all under walking back into the office after New Year's.

Vacation is over, the resolutions are made and it feels like there are just so many of them: "Eat clean," "learn to construct a computer," "get my college degree," even "work hard and get that promotion." 

But as we all know, trying to do too many things, or making theoretical commitments without an actual plan for implementation, is only a recipe for failure. So perhaps it is wiser to make just one resolution you can keep.

If you're thinking about making a professional change for the better, you might want to consider this paradox: Some employees make a lot of mistakes but don't seem to suffer any consequences, while others seem to land in hot water for the slightest infraction.

After more than two decades of observing workplace interaction and reading about same for work and for pleasure, I think I have pinpointed what makes the crucial difference.

If you master this skill, in small increments over time, you will see a positive impact on your career. I call it "the Zelig principle."

Briefly, Zelig was the main character in a 1983 Woody Allen movie of the same name. He had a personality a lot like tofu: Whatever strong personality was around, like a sauce, that was the flavor he took on.

Am I saying that you should sell out and be self-effacing? Totally not. But it does make sense to tone it down at work, if you seriously want to supersede 2015.

Of course, this is much easier to say than to do. At work, like at home or in any social arena, there will be some people you have a good personality chemistry with, while there are others you repel almost chemically. It almost seems beyond one's control to accomplish.

However, there are a few things you can do to put the odds more in your favor. The below are based on my personal observation and experience, and will probably echo much of what you've already heard: 

  • Have the right attitude
  • Focus on other people's feelings
  • Follow the social norms of the workplace
  • Deliver excellent work
  • Give the credit to your boss and teammates

If you read this list carefully, none of it involves being a phony. You don't have to dress like the boss, mimic his or her mannerisms, or become known as a flaming kiss-up.

Really it's about evolving yourself.

Childhood is about indoctrination to the identity of our parents. Adulthood is the process of breaking free and finding out who you are as opposed to what they told you.

Maturity is the capacity to focus on the self of others. 

At work, the employee who exhibits the qualities of maturity has the greatest prospects of success. This person will make mistakes just like anyone, but the positive self-esteem s/he provides to everybody else acts like a buffer against the harshness of their judgments.

We shouldn't promote or condone incompetence; that's corruption. But it's very legitimate to support a culture of maturity at work. And it's a personally valuable decision when we decide to evolve our personalities, to consistently preserve the dignity of others.

Copyright 2016 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The opinions expressed are her own, and the content of this post is not intended to represent any federal agency or the government as a whole.

(Image via jokerpro/Shutterstock.com)

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a federal communicator with 20 years' experience in the private sector, academia and government. Best known for her work on branding, Dr. Blumenthal now focuses on the discipline of management, particularly the intersections between identity, culture and communication. She has lectured at a variety of schools including The George Washington University and the University of Maryland University College. In her spare time she is an independent community activist, focused primarily on raising awareness about child sexual abuse and domestic violence. All opinions are her own.

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