Most of us have played Jenga – either when we were kids, or as adults [possibly after a few beverages]. If you remember, it consists of slowing building a tower of bricks, and then taking turns strategically removing bricks throughout the tower without having the entire tower fall.
Many career books miss completely a similar lesson that can either propel your career forward, or in one bad move destroy everything you have built up over time.
In personal relationships, you can have years if not decades of good times and bad with a good friend or loved one. You learn to accept their faults, they accept yours, and most importantly, you can lose your cool once in a while in somewhat of a safe zone. Whether it be stress, impossible demands, or simply a flawed state of mind, you react irrationally or lash out at your friend in frustration and anger.
More times than not this is tolerated, and the damage caused is fleeting. However, in a job situation this is not the case. In fact, I have seen more jobs eroded, and careers damaged, to the extend the company either decides to let you go, or you decide to leave the company because your career has stalled.
Like Jenga, it takes a long time to build up your professional reputation in a company and team. You build it brick by brick into a stable structure by:
- Acting professionally on your good days and your bad days
- Delivering reliably time after time on your commitments
- Doing good work – always viewed as a solid team player
- Exercising good judgment in the worst of circumstances
- Learning gracefully from mistakes
- Tolerating a wide range of personalities and work situations
- Keeping emotional reactions out of the workplace – regardless of whether they are justified.
However, early in my career I had a fantastic mentor and coach who would pull me aside and point out when I had reacted emotionally to a situation, request, or person. They would illustrate how I should have reacted, and how to control my state of mind and my external reaction.
Like Jenga, every time you are viewed by others as “reacting”, you’ve just pulled a block out of the tower you may have spent years building. Every brick you pull out causes damage to your reputation and the perception colleagues and management has of you. This perception is key to advancing, and as it gets damaged and the tower starts wobbling you will be selected less and less frequently for the important assignments, the next promotion, the team lead position – and your opinion will no longer be heard in most forums.
Pull out enough bricks, or the wrong one, and the tower topples over. This is your career at your current job and company. The wrong brick could simply be the final over-reaction, or you may have chosen the one key person or situation to over-react to, causing everything you have worked for to come tumbling down.
Entire books and training classes have been created around the topic of Emotional Intelligence, and how this level of intelligence becomes more important than your actual skills and experience as you progress up the food chain.
It is a fact that it takes years to build your reputation, but you can destroy it in seconds with a bad reaction in the workplace. Learn to control your internal state of mind and your external reactions to every event, and your career tower will not only stay in place, but will continue getting taller.
However, no matter how tall it gets, it is very fragile, and one misplaced emotional outburst can bring it all falling down. Get up to speed on emotional intelligence – it will serve your very well and help you ascend the corporate ladder faster.
Never react emotionally or without forethought in a difficult situation, when an impossible demand is placed on your, or when that colleague has finally crossed the line. It is your tower your are building, and you’ve put too much effort into it to throw it all away in an unguarded moment.