3 work mistakes you don’t realize you’re making

Some mistakes are easy to recognize – after all, you usually know if you flubbed a presentation or upset a client. But others fly beneath the radar, and those are often more dangerous, since you don’t know that something is going wrong.

Here are three bad mistakes you might be making at work without being aware of it.

1. Not doing what you say you’ll do. Otherwise known as “follow-through,” this has the potential to destroy your reputation with your boss and coworkers. And it’s not just about whether you deliver on the big stuff, like a report or new product. You probably do deliver on that stuff, or you’d be out of a job. But what about the smaller things? When you promise to send a networking client an article that you think they’ll like, do you do it? When you tell your boss that you’re not sure of the status of Project X, but you’ll find out and let her know, do you do it?

A lot of people don’t keep these sorts of commitments – and it gets noticed. You might not lose your job over it, but you’ll create a reputation for being unreliable – and lose the chance to build a reputation for doing what you say you’ll do, which has some serious currency in the work world.

2. Not getting clear on your priorities and acting accordingly. If you’re like many people, you have a constant flow of “stuff” coming at you throughout the day – dozens of email messages, issues to research, small tasks to take care of, people dropping by your office with questions on a project, etc. With a steady flow of demands coming at you, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important things you’re there to get done, and then reach the end of the day – or week! – without having had time to work on your own biggest priorities. In fact, the biggest time management mistake most people make is spending their time on what’s immediately at hand or on what’s most comfortable to work on, rather than what’s most important.

Instead, figure out what one or two items are most important to accomplish on any given day and make those your priorities. Whenever possible, do them first before other things have the chance to intervene. The details will fill in where there’s room.

3. Unresponsiveness. People who are unresponsive rarely think of themselves as unresponsive, but if you don’t answer all your emails and return all your phone calls, you’re guilty as charged. What’s more, you need to answer them in a timely way. So if, say, you wait to respond until you have an answer – even if that takes two weeks – you’re going to appear unresponsive to the other person, who is expecting at least an acknowledgement and a “I’m working on it.”

If you recognize yourself in any of these three bad habits, let this be your wake-up call to take control and put a stop to it!

{ 88 comments… read them below }

  1. Betsy*

    Number 3 is so true, and so hard to recognize in yourself. A manager once sat me down and told me, “Every time you get a meeting invite, reply as soon as you receive it, whether it’s yes, no, or tentative. Nail down the tentative’s later.” I had been accepting without sending responses because I didn’t want to spam the person sending out the mail, and I’d apply the same logic to mails that said, “Still working on this, will get you more info by Thursday.” I have since learned that overcommunication is usually better than undercommunication.

    1. Sparrow*

      Regarding meeting invitations – I schedule a lot of meetings, so it’s helpful to get a response to the invitation so I know if I need to reschedule if someone cannot attend. It’s easy enough to identify the meeting responses in my in-box and delete them.

    2. Chinook*

      As someone who books meetings, it is easy in Outlook to create a rule to deal with responses in a way that it doesn’t overwhelm my inbox. Not knowing if someone is coming or not, though, can affect if the meeting is taking place or where.

      1. books*

        Yep, I’ve conditionally formatted meeting responses so they show up in gray versus black or red and then I get to them when I get to them.

  2. Elizabeth West*

    Unresponsiveness was a big problem at a couple of my past workplaces. Being the receptionist, I often had to field these calls and / or find someone who could at least check on progress. I hated having to dance around the fact that some of my coworkers just didn’t want to deal with their customers–it made me feel like a liar. Yes, there were some customers who needed a lot of hand-holding, but I think in some cases it was because of the unresponsiveness, not in spite of it.

    I don’t think I want to do business with an account rep who doesn’t answer my calls or emails for days or weeks at a time. As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, I’ve learned that sometimes you can ask for someone else to handle things. It’s best to be businesslike about it–as in, “I am having issues contacting X when I need an update; what can we do about that? If we try Z and it’s not helping, is there anyone else who can handle my account? Would a switch be feasible?”

    1. Anne*

      “I hated having to dance around the fact that some of my coworkers just didn’t want to deal with their customers–it made me feel like a liar. ”

      I have so, so much sympathy for this.

        1. Jessa*

          Hasn’t every receptionist, assistant, gatekeeper in the business gone through this one. There’ll always be someone the boss doesn’t want to talk to or some person who doesn’t want to deal with their own work.

    2. glg*

      Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. You have perfectly described my life at the moment and YES SO MUCH to how needy clients get created. A disorganized company that doesn’t get back to its clients creates needy clients. Or creates a lack of clients.

    3. ChristineSW*

      Oh I can completely relate to this!! Baring the brunt of frustrated customers/conference attendees/clients waiting to get a response regarding their situation (from others, not me) gets old reeeeally fast!

    4. AnonAthon*

      Oh gosh, me too. A past co-worker had massive responsiveness issues, so eventually folks started emailing/calling me with questions b/c they knew that they’d get a reply much faster. Which wasn’t the worst thing, but I ended up juggling a bunch of things that had nothing to do with my job (and that I didn’t even know that much about).

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I had to do that too; and then there was the passive-aggressive bully manager who left his pet target Account Dude out of the loop when responding, making it look like it was ME they had to contact for all stuff instead of just X stuff. He did it on purpose to make Account Dude look bad (and cover his rear when he dropped the ball on an X request that had sat in his inbox for ages).

        I dealt with it by re-emailing the customer (without copying the manager) and saying, “I received your request for X and have sent it on its way. Your rep is Account Dude and you can contact him at Email, or by phone at Number if you have any product / order questions. Have a great day!”

        Muwahahaha! >:D

        1. Ella*

          Argrr! you should have been entitled to a FAT chunk of Account Dude’s salary for all your extra efforts!

      2. Ellie H.*

        Yes, I absolutely hate getting into that good cop/bad cop dynamic, especially when you can see both sides of it: it’s understandable that the person waiting for a response feels anxious, but it’s also understandable when the person who needs to provide the response is crazy busy and that this is a low priority especially if it is not crucial information and just a confirmation of something.
        Sometimes it can be very useful to be a go-between because you may be able to grab a very quick answer from the person, which you can flesh out with context or at least write in a “nice” or detailed way, and satisfy the answer seeker with that. But sometimes it’s just this awkward middle ground where either you end up being disingenuous or you end up making the response provider look bad by being the responsive “good cop.”

  3. Ann O'Nemity*

    Sometimes co-workers request things from me in person, especially in “fly-by” hallway exchanges. After realizing that I don’t always remember to follow-up, I’ve started asking these folks to send the request via email. So far, this tactic is working great.

    1. Leslie Yep*

      Yes! This has also helped me help my colleagues differentiate between sort of fleeting good ideas (fun and interesting but not the best use of our time) and things that actually should be priorities — usually, if I ask my colleagues to email me, they forget about those fleeting ideas before they’re back at their desk and we end up with WAY fewer “Oh, I totally forgot I asked for that!” projects!

    2. holly*

      yes! i have an issue with remembering verbal requests. always, always email especially if i can’t get to my desk fast enough to write it down.

    3. Sharm*

      This is great. I prefer to have everything in writing, even if it was already discussed in a meeting.

  4. Ruffingit*

    Not following through – YES!! I had a boss who was horrible about this. She would promise to do things that would have made my job 1 million times easier and in some cases, had to be done before I could move forward on certain things and then she wouldn’t do them. I stopped following up with her at some point because it was just a pack of lies after awhile: “Oh yes, we need to do that, thanks for the follow-up…” Whatever.

    1. Mints*

      +1 This is one of the main reasons I mentally checked out.
      “I have a research project for you to start next week. I’ll email you the details over the weekend so you can start Monday”
      “Okay great”
      Monday morning–nothing. Do nothing all day, expecting email any second. Check in…”Yes I’ll email it to you right after this conference call” … Nothing. Get it days later.
      This can only happen a few times before I decide I’m biding my time until I can start job hunting

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yes, I totally relate. In my case, my boss wouldn’t actually do the things she promised ever. It wasn’t even a matter of her sending me things/doing them days/weeks later, she would never do them. I worked off and on for her as a contractor for several years so once I became aware of this trait of her, it helped because I knew not to expect her to actually provide anything. But it was maddening and I was really glad (truly) when they laid off their contractors because I went in every day nearly unable to do my job because I wasn’t getting what I needed from her. That wears on you after awhile and makes you feel as though there’s no point to what you are working on because it’s never going to be seen to completion or even used by people because it’s never going to be what it could be if she’d follow through. Not worth the waste of time.

  5. Ruffingit*

    One I can add to the list – listening. So many people do not actually listen to what is being said. They think they know, but they miss key details because they are in too much of a hurry to go to lunch, get back to their office, whatever. Listen to what is actually being asked, respond with your understanding of what is wanted so you can be sure you’re on the same page.

    1. Ella*

      I totally relate! and to that I would add *monologue* – even during scheduled encounters, when there is plenty of time for discussion, some people do simply not listen, too busy in keeping up their monologue. How sad is that?

  6. Amanda*

    I hate unresponsiveness so much. I understand people don’t always have an answer right away but “I’m looking into this and expect to have an answer for you by ___” goes a long way.

  7. Ali*

    I hate working with people who don’t answer e-mails! Seriously. If you promise to at least try and help me with something, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want a reply in a short timeframe even if it’s just to say hey I’m working on X. It’s especially annoying later when I hear “so and so is overwhelmed or just too busy.” Well I’m busy too and I still manage to answer e-mails that need to be answered. It doesn’t take that long, trust me.

  8. glg*

    Oh my god, you’ve just described both of my bosses with #3. (And #1.) I honestly don’t understand how we have clients (they are the two sales people in the company; one is the owner and the other is probably going to take over the company soon). And the worst part for me personally is that since I’m the one who answers the phones the clients often get angry at me, thinking I haven’t passed their messages on. Oh clients, I have, I *have*. I remind them multiple times. It’s just that both of them are disorganized and don’t care about anything that doesn’t help them directly at that moment. (Like, the second in command — who is a woman — will call female clients c*nts behind their back for doing something as simple as asking for a quote at an inconvenient time. Men get called pedophiles.)

    And because of this culture *I* have problems getting back to people in a timely manner because often I have to find out information from my bosses and they don’t get back to me in a timely manner and ARG. IT SUCKS. The person in the position before me was let go because he (according to my bosses) “didn’t get back to people” but after being in this position for 8 months, I feel much more sympathy for him. The culture here works against getting back to people on time and definitely works against being proactive about such things. And anytime I’ve suggested changing the system (maybe, uh, having more than one e-mail address that the entire office shares?) I’ve been shot down because “the system works”. Uh, NO. NO IT DOES NOT.

    Of course my bosses expect me to do everything for them immediately with no conception of how difficult it is to get them to do ANYTHING even remotely on-time. Like. We have orders that are finished weeks and sometimes months after when they were supposed to be delivered. But because billing doesn’t always go out the day a project is finished I am slow. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr. Hissssssss.

    1. Ruffingit*

      OMG. That sounds so dysfunctional and awful. Cunts and pedophiles? REALLY?? Almost would make me want to tape the execs who use those words and then play it for the clients so they know what their reps really think of them. There’s just no excuse for language like that in an office and especially not directed to clients. Geeze.

      1. glg*

        I KNOW. I KNOW. I’m female, if I might add, and when I challenged my boss on it her response was that because she is a woman and gay it is ok. (NO, NO IT IS NOT.) And also that it was true. (It is not! The woman who she uses that word in reference to the most can be a needy client but is essentially a really nice and wonderful woman.)

        Really this just scratches the surface of how dysfunctional and terrible she/this place is. It also serves to illustrate how sexual harassment doesn’t have to be about someone making sexual advances on you; it can be your boss speculating about your coworkers’ sex lives to you despite asking them not to do that. Or asking you to send NSFW pictures to people as a joke. Or any number of other things.

        I hate this place so. incredibly. much.

        (Good news: about 30 seconds ago I got a call on my cell phone for a job interview. YAY!)

          1. glg*

            Yeaaaaaah. She kind of uses that excuse a lot for tons of inappropriate stuff? And approximately zero people I know who are on the queer spectrum would agree. (Myself included.)

        1. Ruffingit*

          Fingers crossed for the job interview because wow. This place just sounds so awful, I can’t even imagine. And yeah, being a certain gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or whatever doesn’t give you the right to use horrible language. There’s no excuse for that at all.

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      That is really horrible. I know very few women who use the “C” word. In fact, I can’t think of one off the top of my head who does. I have not used that word since high school. I called a teacher that once, and she overheard me. I ended up getting suspended — and rightfully so, I might add.

      1. glg*

        The word itself doesn’t bother me in the way that it bothers some people (b*tch and slut both bother me more, personally), but that’s because I didn’t encounter the word under later in life while watching Irish and British films where the context and usage is different than here in the US and doesn’t carry the weight it does here. But it is absolutely not appropriate at work and I don’t understand how she can use it and not understand the history of that word here and expect it that to be OK. I just … I hear it about once a month, usually in relation to one specific client and every time I just flinch. And every time it is completely unfounded; even “lesser” words like b*tch or jerk would be unfounded. The client can be needy, but she is very nice. (The other client I’ve heard her call that is much less nice but is still perfectly fine and professional to work with and doesn’t deserve being called that — or any other — name.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          What gets me is not the word itself- it’s the hostility, the dripping/oozing hatred that drives the use of the word.
          The speaker looked around for something awful to say and “discovered” this word. Why the big push to spew venom all over the place?
          Instead of trying to understand the speaker I lose sight of the original issue and start to concentrate on the fact that the person in front of me seems to be having a major meltdown.

        2. Ellie H.*

          People really vary in how awful they think this word is. It’s probably the most taboo general profanity word (apart from offensive/discriminatory slur) in American English but from arts and media it seems a lot more all-purpose in other Anglophone countries. Also I understand that some people have a feminist objection to it. But yeah, some people think this word is utterly unsayable while other people (including, I admit, me) think it’s a delightfully emphatic addition to one’s repertoire for occasions that call for profanity.

          1. glg*

            The issue for me is, as “Not So New Reader” says, the contempt and vitriol that my boss puts into it and the fact that she clearly thinks that the word should be used to refer to the lowest of the low. Whether you think people should be offended by the word or not, the fact is it is often employed as a slur and no matter what the word is, using a slur to refer to someone is usually inappropriate, particularly at work. In addition, even if a person thinks that the word is fine to say, they should know that not everyone agrees and therefore be prepared for pushback. Besides which, there time and a place for swear words and work is definitely not the time or place, *especially* when the swear word is being used as a slur. (i.e. to me there is a difference between “Shit! I forgot to order more staples!” which is not appropriate but ultimately pretty forgivable/inconsequential and “Client X is a fucking jackass” which is not appropriate, forgivable, or inconsequential) All of which to say, if a friend of mine says c*nt as a joking curse in private that’s hugely different to me than my boss saying it to convey loathing for a client.

            1. glg*

              I should add that if my boss just said the word as a one off that would possibly be more forgivable; instead it’s part of a pattern of her using gender and (perceived) sexuality to badmouth people behind their backs. She tries to diminish their credibility by making suppositions about their sexual behaviors.

        3. Canadamber*

          It REALLY bothers me. Like Not So NewReader said, it’s also something about the hostility! I have asked numerous people not to use that word, and usually I get, “Well, it’s TRUE!” Still, it is inappropriate to call someone a cunt, under ANY circumstance. I caught myself thinking that about someone myself not too long ago and was really, really ashamed of myself. It’s really a terrible word. It really is.

    3. Another Anon*

      How horrid!

      One thing you can do: get back to the client, even if it is just to let them know that you have a message in with Potty Mouthed Boss and are awaiting a response, will update client ASAP, etc. And touch base with the client a few days later to let them know you haven’t forgotten about them and are still waiting on PMB to respond to your query.

      1. glg*

        Yes, I’ve gotten better about trying to get back to people who are waiting on my bosses; at first I would hand off the message and just expect that they would take care of it. I don’t assume that any more. Now, especially when I can get part of the answer quickly, I try to get back to them with as much information as I can and let them know the rest will follow.

    4. glg*

      Oh gosh, as the icing on the cake to my previous comment: I came in this morning to an e-mail for my bosses from a somewhat major client saying, essentially “you guys need to be more responsive, it’s a ton of work for me to follow up on things you should be doing as a matter of course.” Odds they will actually take this e-mail to heart? Approximately zero, but god I feel vindicated.

  9. Goofy posture*

    Ugh, I’m terrible about all three! Any advice for the perpetually understaffed? Some of the compromises of my “fun” job is:
    -poor management that doesn’t set priorities (or whose priorities change every day or two), and doesn’t want me saying “no” to any but the most absurd requests
    -no chance of hiring an assistant
    -an impossible influx of projects and inquiries

    So my coping strategy so far has been slow response times (prioritizing requests with earlier deadlines) coupled with poor follow-through (“yeah, sure, I’ll get right on top of re-printing all of our materials with unnecessary QR codes…”)

    1. Ruffingit*

      Well, in some cases, the poor response time is a reflection of your environment, not of your personal traits. In this case, it appears your workplace wants you to be responsive to everything, doesn’t set priorities and will not get you the help you need. Poor responsiveness in that environment is to be expected in my view.

    2. Another Anon*

      Not a perfect solution, but maybe instead of sarcastically promising to get right on Project X, be realistic and let them know you are happy to work on Project X three weeks from now (or whatever timeframe is reasonable considering your other projects).

      1. Goofy posture*

        To clarify, I’m not actually sarcastic to managers; that is just my internal monologue. I just say “I’ll add it to my list” but indicating a timeframe is a good idea.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would say to be very explicit about timelines and trade-offs — like, “I’m putting it on my list, but it’s probably going to be a March project, unless you’d rather move X and Y back to make room for doing it sooner.”

    4. Yup*

      A “managing up” technique for the absurd requests that you’re not allowed to decline: don’t commit to *do* the task, commit to reviewing it or adding it to an existing process.

      Example: “Interesting idea about the QR codes. Our next scheduled printing of the marketing materials is March. I’ll add to the list of items for March.” In March, you say, “Here are the 83 ideas submitted. We can achieve 10 in this cycle, which 10 are your tops?”

      (Also, I periodically engage in rebellion and just spend a day or two doing whatever tasks I want to clear off my list. Doesn’t matter if they’re top priority or what, I just spend a chunk of time working on whatever I can’t bear to look at for one more minute.)

  10. Penny*

    Oh gosh yes, unresponsiveness is the worst. I’ve been discussing that this week with my carpool buddy because some people I’m helping at work are totally unresponsive. My department is very communicative and it’s just natural to us, not something we’re required to be on top of, so it’s harder to deal with people who are not as responsive we are. Probably why we always win the customer service awards at meetings.

    Oh and the people I’m trying to get responses from, it’s because I spoke to some strong candidates for them and am trying to get them to move forward quickly with the next step in the interview process. So if you’re not getting a call back, it could be due to unresponsive managers, not because you aren’t a good candidate. :/

  11. Ann Furthermore*

    Right up there with unresponsiveness is not sharing pertinent information. I had a director once who would hoard information and not disseminate it to the people who needed it. So you’d be working away, and then by chance happen to hear about something, ask a few questions, and find out that it impacted your project, business process, the report you were working on, and so on. Then the director would say, “Oh yeah, I guess I forgot to send you the email. Sorry.”

    Something like that happening is inconvenient and annoying, but everyone forgets things occasionally so it’s not the end of the world. But with this particular director, it was a pattern, and it happened to everyone on a regular basis. I think it was some sort of passive-aggressive way for her to feel like she was the one who was in control and in the know.

    1. S*

      One of my co-workers was the same and kept forgetting to forward information and emails. He kept telling us that he had memory problems!! And would laugh about it!!
      I am so glad that I don’t work at that office anymore!

    2. Windchime*

      Yeah, I work with someone who doesn’t share information. It isn’t like she is hiding it; rather, she just parcels it out a bit at a time.

      Windchime: “So we have 5 files?”
      Co-worker: “Yes” (Then, two days before release)….”Oh, and this other one here.”
      Windchime: “So, 6 files?”
      Co-Worker: “Yes, 6. And then those other two, which makes 8.”


    3. Anonymous*

      I recently had a boss like this. I always thought it was a control issue. She liked being the go-to person and left her reports in the dark so that everyone went to her. Not a very efficient way to manage.

  12. wesgerrr*

    I am guilty as charged on #3! But I just hate to tell a client “I don’t know.” I think it’s an age/new to the industry thing. Well, I guess my New Years resolution came a little late this year :)
    I’ve massively improved on #2, to the point where people tell me that I am good at it now! Yay!

    1. The Other Dawn*

      In regards to #3, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know, but let me find out and I’ll get back to you at X time.” All you’re doing is pissing someone off when you’re unresponsive.

      1. class factotum*

        But don’t say this in a job interview with a big consulting company. Instead, say, “The population of the US is about 380 million. Therefore, the market for windshield wipers must be about X units a year.”

        1. Audrey*

          Well I don’t live in the US but I believe the population is more like 320 million. So would making such a large error in an estimation question do you any harm?

      2. wesgerrr*

        The Other Dawn- If I’m not responsive, it’s usually not something I can pin down an “X” time to. It’s something where I am waiting for a point in the process where I will know. If that makes any sense whatsoever. :)

  13. A Bug!*

    #1 has two aspects to it.

    The first is follow-through: when you say you’ll do something, you take responsibility for it. Either by doing it yourself, ensuring it gets done by someone else, or handing the task back with enough time for an alternative to be found. This is especially important if other people are going to see consequences for your lack of follow-through.

    The second aspect is simply not saying you’ll do something unless you know you’re going to be able to do it and you’re willing to take on responsibility for it. That includes not overbooking yourself, not underestimating the task (or overestimating yourself), and not promising something when your ability to deliver is dependent on a factor you can’t control.

      1. A Bug!*


        The second aspect actually overlaps a lot with the second item on AAM’s article, now that I think about it. You use the same set of reasoning skills to prioritize your tasks that you do when you assess your ability to complete them in the first place.

  14. bad at online naming*

    I know there’s an opposite of unresponsiveness but I don’t know a good word for it. Needy? Annoying? Not understanding others’ roles or priorities? (Software developers are not tech support; we will not fix your computer. For one thing, they’re much better at it.)

    Also if you call me 3 minutes after emailing me a very detailed question to demand why I haven’t responded to your email yet, I will hate you a little bit.

    1. A Bug!*

      Do you mean that someone might think another person is unresponsive, when really it’s that the person is sending a constant stream of unnecessary, inappropriate, or low-priority requests to that other person?

      1. bad at online naming*


        This situation is probably much less likely than unresponsiveness, but I had to deal with several instances recently so it’s at the forefront of my mind.

        One notable event included someone complaining to a director that someone on my team wasn’t responding – when the person who hadn’t responded is (and always has been) in another location in another time zone and hadn’t even had any normal work hours since the time of the original request. Frustrating, to say the least – even more so when the request was totally not high priority.

    2. Ruffingit*

      I’m going with Annoyingly Needy :) I get what you’re saying here, these are the people who believe that they are the center of the universe and everything they send should be answered within a 5-minute time frame. I had a boss who was somewhat like this once. She would leave me long, very detailed voice mail messages and then less than a minute later send me a text message that said “Listen to your voice mail.”

      She was the same person who would call staff members at 5 a.m. (literally, 5 a.m.) to discuss things they needed to do when they got to work at 8 a.m. These discussions could easily have waited until these people were at work at 8, but the boss was such a workaholic and awake at all hours, she failed to realize that everything isn’t “super important, must be discussed and decided” the moment it came into her head.

  15. Nonprofit Office Manager*

    In regards to #3 (unresponsiveness), how would folks here respond to a boss who recently instituted a policy requiring staff to respond to all emails within 48 hours, but then explicitly exempts herself (and the other Co-Director) from the rule? The Co-Directors in question are the worst offenders in terms of non-responsiveness. For example, one of them replied to emails I sent in October just yesterday….

    1. Eric*

      By setting an automatic reply that says “Thank you for your email. It has been received.” Forget about 48 hour, that’s 48-SECOND turnaround right there.

  16. The Other Dawn*

    It truly annoys the hell out of me when people aren’t responsive. So many times I’ve called a week later and I’m told, “Oh, I’m still working on it. I should have an answer tomorrow.” Please just email me and tell me you’re working on it! At least that way I know my request was received.

  17. ThursdaysGeek*

    This reminds me of a job I had decades ago, when I was still trying to get a job in my field. I worked in a shoe repair, and the sterotypes are true. My boss would accept a pair of shoes to fix, say they’d be done in two days, and wouldn’t start working on them until the person had come back for them once or twice.

    I made a deal with him once: he’d finish all the shoes that were due the next day. If he succeeded, I’d buy him dinner at a really fancy restaurant. If he failed, he’d buy dinner. It was a deal I couldn’t lose: either I’d get a nice dinner, or else I wouldn’t have anyone yell at me for not having their shoes done. I got the dinner.

    1. class factotum*

      I would be really cranky at having to go back to a shop more than once and would start looking for a new shoe repair guy. Unfortunately, they are few and far between these days, so I guess I would have to put up with it.

  18. some1*

    “What other mistakes do you see people making that you don’t think they realize they’re doing?”

    Not understanding the culture of a particular workplace, or trying to get the culture to conform to you vs the other way around.

    Aligning yourself socially with co-workers who are seen as troublemakers or who are disliked by management. Or, conversely, getting on the Poo List of the Boss’s Pet. You should be able to be friends with whomever you want, but the reality is at work you can pay dearly for it.

    Assuming work social events (holiday parties, after work happy hours, retirement parties) are like any other social event, and you should have the all the same discussions, listen to the same music, and drink as much as when you are hanging out with your friends.

  19. Not So NewReader*

    My personal favorite:

    Boss/coworker on Monday: Always do X.
    Me: No problem, will do.

    Same boss/coworker on Tuesday: What the hell are you doing X for? DO Y!
    Me: hmmmm. Sure, will do.

    Same boss/coworker on Wednesday: What is the matter here?
    I told you do that we need Z and you are busy with X then Y.

    Listening skills are not just for use with other people. We have to listen to ourselves talk. People don’t do what you want them to do but rather they do what you TELL them to do.
    If you tell me to empty the brown filing cabinet on the first floor there is no WAY I am going to deduce that you meant the BLACK filing cabinet the second floor.
    It’s fine to say “I am sorry, I really thought I told you the black filing cabinet.” It is not fine to talk to me like I am five years old.

    Because this annoys me, I got into the habit of spot checking what comes out of my own mouth. Am I saying one thing and thinking of another- this is so easy to do. Look at the listener’s face is there a face of confusion OR does there seem to be recognition and understanding.

    Listening to yourself goes on into other areas- are you calling Jane a saint one day and reaming her the next day?

    I have had bosses/coworkers that had amazing failures in their short term memory capacity. However the people around them were very much aware of how this person was totally unable to recall a conversation from yesterday.

    1. HR Lady*

      NotSoNewReader, my problem is that my employees want me to set procedures/policies/absolutes like “Always do X,” when really the situations don’t lend themselves to absolutes like that.

      So I try to say “OK, well then, always do X, except don’t do it when Y happens. And do X+A when Z happens.” And that works for a while, until Q happens, and they do X, and I get annoyed that they should have used their judgment to realize that it doesn’t make sense to do X when Q happens.

      I think the moral of this story is that I need to stop trying to make absolute rules/policies, and I should explain to my employees that they need to use their judgement instead of wanting things to be easy with simple, absolute rules. Thanks, NotSoNewReader, for helping me figure that out!

    2. HR Lady*

      Also, NotSoNewReader, I like what you wrote about listening to ourselves talk. It is true that we humans often say something to others that we don’t actually do ourselves. It takes some courage, self-awareness, and humility to acknowledge that when it happens (even just to acknowledge it to ourselves).

  20. Cassie*

    I need to get better with #1: I usually have a to-do list planned out each morning, but then I’ll get interruptions which are interrupted by other interruptions. Even though I write down requests, sometimes I’ll forget about the request until a few hours later. For example, I checked my voicemail this morning and took down a message to call someone back. Tried calling (at 8:30) but the person wasn’t in yet so I thought “I’ll call back after 9am”. I didn’t remember to call until 11-ish.

  21. ano*

    I have had a co-worker who does both: Unresponsive and Overresponsive.

    Some things – normally easy – you never hear back about until you’ve reminded them 5 times and suddenly its holding something up.

    Others – normally complicated and more long term, I’ve even written “I understand this may take a while to resolve” or something in the email they are right back at you about with a half promise or a plaintiff whimper about how busy they are and they will get to it when uber-money-making matter is out of the way….. and then never deliver. Until suddenly its uber urgent and the bosses are asking about it and then its my fault for not following up enough with them….

  22. Rachit Aggarwal*

    Thanks for sharing this great list.

    I would like to add one more some people never put out of office reply/automatic reply when they are on leave. This is also a big blunder and can hamper your image. It happened with me. In this case, although you are responsive but you can be perceived as unresponsive.


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