Did you know that you flub workplace and social interactions all the time? You do. So do I. So does everyone, says Ovul Sezer, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina.
Sezer studies so-called “impression mismanagement” and the social belly flops by which you offend, insult or create distrust between yourself and others in the workplace, often unintentionally and obliviously.
The good news? The good news? These gaffes can be avoided. Here are the common offenders, so you can steer clear of them.
What it is: Praise that draws comparison with a negative standard or stereotype.
Example: “You’re funny for a woman.”
What’s the problem? These “compliments” are actually insulting and belittling. Plus, you just insulted her entire demographic.
Do this instead: Give the praise without the qualification. “Compliments go a long way,” Sezer says. “They’re an incredible social glue, and often make you feel very happy for giving them, not just receiving them.”
What it is: Sharing good news or self-compliments under the guise of a complaint or false humility.
Examples: “I didn’t even put makeup on — I don’t know why all these people are hitting on me.” “The mail is so unreliable — I didn’t get my Harvard acceptance letter until yesterday.”
What’s the problem? It comes off as insincere and fake. Even nice, well-meaning people humble brag. For example, in a job interview you might “spin” a negative question positively, answering that your biggest weakness is your insistence on doing the right thing.
Do this instead: If you would like to share a win or brag about an achievement, do it directly. If it’s self-congratulatory, try, “Do you mind if I pat myself on the back for a moment?” “People really want to see a genuine approach,” Sezer says.
What it is: Advising or explaining to a recipient who knows more about the topic than the explainer. This is very common in the corporate world, where executives commonly opine excessively to underlings. Mansplaining is also a well-known example of this.
Examples: “I’m explaining to you in great detail how to operate this machine that you designed.” “Welcome to the company. I’m going to tell you all about the topic in which you have a Ph.D.”
What’s the problem? The speaker mistakenly assumes he or she has more experience or status.
Do this instead: Before you launch into an explanation, ask your listener about his or her experience on the topic.
What it is: Casually mentioning high-status people or institutions in an effort to associate yourself with respected, competent, fun or connected people.
Examples: “Zuck really wanted me to stay at Facebook.” “I used to eat a muffin every morning at Yale.” “I was at a BBQ with Shaq and …”
What’s the problem? You come across as fake. Name-dropping is a particularly common error in networking, where people quickly try to communicate status.
Do this instead: If you must name-drop, do it in the context of work or organizational connections, which is more socially acceptable than bragging about social ties. For example, “I used to attend Mark Zuckerberg’s weekly publicity team meeting.”
What it is: Humor about something one of your listeners is too unfamiliar with to understand.
Example: Co-worker says in a voice imitating a manager: “Come on y’all, where are the crayons?” Raucous laughter ensues.
What’s the problem? The outsider feels awkward, left to either ask why crayons are funny or pretend to laugh at the word “crayons.”
Do this instead: Only crack jokes that all listeners can understand. “Humor is a tool that brings people together, but with inside joking, it is dividing,” Sezer says.