How a lack of doubt is toxic to your career

Lack of doubt and overconfidence are toxic to your career. A curious mind, on the other hand, is invaluable in business and a healthy sense of doubt is one of the most important characteristics of effective people. People in power know that learning and growth start with questions. We pay attention to the questions you ask in job interviews and meetings.

Questions like these really matter and change people’s lives (from big to small):

  • What should I do with my life?
  • Is this job a good fit for me?
  • Where am I going in my job this year?
  • How valuable is my work to the company?
  • What will I accomplish this quarter?
  • Am I getting enough feedback and guidance from my boss?
  • Am I on track this month?
  • How does this work? Why?
  • How could I improve this?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • Am I prepared for my conference call this afternoon?

a curious mind is invaluable in businessHow do I know when a new member of the team is unlikely to work out? It’s usually someone who asks few questions during training, then sits down to work and charges ahead with full confidence (usually doing the wrong thing) without checking in for feedback until I request an update.

Some people are naturally more curious than others — but forget about that because you can create your own healthy sense of doubt with practice. Our minds generally do what we ask them to – ask and ye shall receive.

So use this checklist:

  1. Hang a list of daily questions for yourself in your bedroom and/or your office.
  2. Put questions in locations that will remind you at the right time in the right place. I keep a card on my monitor that says “Prepared? Specific enough? Documented?” No, it doesn’t always work, but I’m still a little better with the reminder than without.
  3. Ask yourself “What am I missing? What other possibilities are there? What consequences might flow from this? Consider a longer list of options and try to include some wacky ones. Get outside your comfort zone for a moment.
  4. Spill your guts. When you’re tempted to ask something but feel inhibited or fearful about asking, pay close attention – it’s usually a question that needs asking. Just ask. You’ll find the cost of not asking is almost always higher.

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For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

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  • A curious mind leads to numerous benefits in both the workplace and in the world outside of work. We all have a deep desire to be understood. This is the reason we communicate with each other. We use words as some of the tools for this communication in the hopes that we will be heard and understood. Many times, the way we know that someone is listening and understanding is when she asks questions to dig deeper or clarify.

    The same is true in the workplace. During my time teaching at a nonprofit in China, I encountered innumerable examples of this truth. When designing summer English camps for students, questions were what kept me on track and revealed to my boss the progress I was making. But the curious mind and questions carried over from my preparation time into my time with the students. My boss knew that I was working hard and getting somewhere by the guidance and feedback I was asking for, and the students knew I care because I both asked them questions and gave them feedback.

    I agree with this article, but I believe the implications carry far beyond the office and can positively impact all areas of our lives and interactions with others.

  • Beginning a new experience, whether in the classroom or in the workplace, is going to come with a learning curve. While it can be tempting to dive into the work and appear to be an expert at the topic at hand, this strategy is often counterproductive. It is impossible to know everything about a task or job when one is just beginning, but no one wants to appear incompetent or unprepared on their first day of work. However, asking questions often leads to better results and a better reputation around the office as someone willing to learn.

    I learned this lesson myself at my first internship. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I interned at an advertising and public relations firm. When I began the internship, I had not yet taken any marketing or data analytics classes. I was unsure of what to expect, seeing as this was my first internship, and just believed that I would pick it up as I went along. A few days in, my boss asked me to complete some research about the effectiveness of different online advertising methods. He used marketing jargon, such as click through rate and conversion rate, that I was not yet familiar with. Instead of admitting that I was not sure exactly what those terms meant, I assumed that I could get by on simply googling the terms and teaching them to myself. However, I quickly learned that I was going to have a hard time keeping the definitions of all these terms straight and learning how they related to each other on my own. Having to go back to my boss and admit that I was not completely sure of what I was doing and that I needed further help was much more uncomfortable than asking for clarification up front. Luckily, my boss was extremely understanding and gave me the guidance I needed to complete the task. From that day on, I was sure to always ask questions up front if I was unsure about something. This improved my work, as I was able to work more efficiently when I understood what I was doing. It also improved my relationship with my boss because I was not afraid to be honest with him and ask him for help when I needed it.

    As stated in this article, being curious is often a benefit to employees. Being vocal about struggles and uncertainties will ultimately make them more productive employees. I agree with the article that this curiosity requires some sense of self-doubt. Being overly confident often results in employees believing they can take on too much and figure out any obstacles on their own. This results in them making costly mistakes and having to take more company time to fix these mistakes. The importance of asking for help when it is needed cannot be overemphasized and is a lesson I will carry with me throughout my future experiences in the workplace.

  • This lesson extends past just the workplace. Even before you reach the career stage in life, the lesson from this article in essential. In college, I had to take a programming class as part of my major, but I had no experience with any sort of programming. It was beginner-intermediate level difficulty, but for someone who had never attempted to programming it seemed like a challenge greater than any prior.

    Each week we were given a new lab to complete within two hours. As expected, they started out fairly easy, but about a month in, we were tasked with making programs with multiple functions within other functions all serving one, seemingly simple, task. There were a number of times I forgot syntax or certain operators necessary to complete the task at hand. Other times, the program would simple give the error message and no more, forcing me to figure out the problem myself. During both of these set backs, I was afraid to ask for help or guidance in fear of looking incompetent in any way.

    Eventually, I would force myself to go ahead and ask the professor for some guidance. He seemed glad to help, especially since he could tell I at least tried to figure it out myself, but came to him when I did all I could. In fact, one time I couldn’t figure out why my program wasn’t reading a variable correctly, saying it was undefined, so I called my professor over. As he was going over the program with me sitting there, I spotted the difference before he did. It was a simple capital letter difference that invalidated the variable. As soon as I pointed that out, rather than scoff or scold, he simply laughed and we joked about how a simple error could give such a headache.

    This is a tame example, but it can be translated well into the workplace. It is incredibly important to ask for help when you need it, especially when you establish you want to work hard and do well.

  • This past summer I interned at the USDA doing behavioral data analytics. Within the first week, there were a lot of unfamiliar software program, policies, and acronyms (the government LOVES their acronyms) thrown at me. I was overwhelmed to say the least.

    I was briefly walked through the basics of the projects I would be working on and how to navigate some of the programs I would be using, but after this overview, I still had many questions. I didn’t want to “burden” my supervisor or upper level employees and seem like I needed hand-holding, so I dove in head first and attempted to teach myself the workings of the statistical packages. This resulted in me using valuable time learning by trial and error and making many mistakes along the way.

    This self-reliance and reluctance to ask for additional direction and explanation, as seen in my experience as well as is covered in this article, ultimately ended up hurting my performance as an intern. A week and a half into my ten week internship, I decided to speak up and ask the many questions I had accumulated. In the thirty minutes it took my supervisor to answer my questions, I had learned more than I had the past several days trying to independently interpret the tasks at hand.

    This reinforces that lack of self-doubt and not asking productive questions only hurts job performance. Asking questions of your supervisors is not a sign of weakness in the workplace, it shows that you are curious, looking to grow, and committed to completing tasks to their highest quality.

  • I am a freelance musician. My many bosses include restaurant owners and
    bartenders who hire me to attract customers. Last summer, I began leading a band called Groove Atlas in alocal restaurant called Talayna’s. I focused my energy on rehearsing and preparing the music and making sure the performances would go smoothly. Even though we were being paid to perform, I thought little of the actual value we provided to the store. Toxic attitude – I learned.

    Musicians havefollowers. Restaurant owners hire musicians in order to attract the followers to the restaurant. Bands need a good marketing strategy. I believed that word of mouth would be enough to attract customers and sustain work. I was wrong. After a few slow weekends at
    the restaurant, the owner began frequently asking me to bring in more people

    In the fall, I started following a band called Crystal Lady. They used Facebook to advertise their performances and they brought huge crowds everywhere they went. I realized that I
    needed to change before I could have any kind of success like theirs. Following the example of Crystal Lady, I rebuilt my marketing strategy from the ground up.

    I brainstormed all the actions I could take to attract more people to perform. First, I hired more skilled musicians, so we could rehearse less and have more time to promote shows. I remembered that whenever I attended a performance, I almost always knew the artist already. I named my group, “The Nathan Rauscher Jazz Band,” to take advantage of name recognition. I started a Facebook page where I advertised performances to all of my friends. I even talked my parents into helping spread the word

    On the very next gig, the difference was night and day. At most, twenty people would come to see Groove Atlas, but fifty customers came to see The Nathan Rauscher Jazz Band. The owner was so pleased that he gave us four more shows over the following two months, and
    we still perform there regularly. I learned to see the value of my work through the eyes of my employers, and we have mutually benefited because of it.

  • I started working with a friend of mine in a new department. The two of us were constantly asking each other during our lunch break about our boss – what he thought of us, how to interpret his questions, what was expected of us and whether we were meeting those expectations.

    I tend to be shy and unsure about myself. I know it’s important to promote yourself in a work environment and to have confidence in your abilities, but I didn’t want to overdo it or make myself seem manufactured. If I didn’t know how to do something, I had to choose between pretending to understand and failing, or admitting I didn’t know how to do it and risk looking underqualified for the job. I constantly struggled with this internal battle, and would sometimes end up spending hours on Google searching for answers instead of just asking someone for help to a simple problem.

    Luckily, I’ve since developed a great relationship with my boss and have come to a major realization. Your boss knows when you aren’t asking questions. He learns about you over time, and if you don’t come to him (frequently) when you start something new, he doesn’t assume that you’re a genius and already know everything; he assumes you’re too proud to ask for help and to admit you have trouble.

    If I ask my boss a simple question every single time I can’t figure something out on my own (after a quick Google search or instant messaging a co-worker), my questions show that I am eager to learn, open to correction, unafraid to speak up, and efficient. I was even offered a promotion for this once. He said he could tell how competent I was because I asked the right questions.

  • I have a nasty habit of being a couch potato, as such when it comes time to head to my shift I’m usually not the happiest camper. Yet I always try to go in with a positive attitude, if I am there I might as well try to get the most out of it. I find this makes a huge difference; not only do I have fun but my productivity increases as well as the productivity of my co-workers. A toxic environment leads to vastly unproductive environments and can make the time terrible for everyone. I prefer to have fun so time can fly by.

  • I have worked multiple part time jobs in my time at school, however the majority of my time has been spent in daycare settings. I can definitely tell when someone with a toxic attitude has been in the classroom I am working in that day. The attitude spreads from person to person and intensifies. Before you know it the work environment is toxic. All it takes is one person to turn that attitude the other direction and make the day great! I strive everyday to be that person and make my workplace more enjoyable for everyone.

  • I haven’t been employed in a permanent or full-time position quite, but from my years of work experience I can agree that a toxic attitude can make or break your work performance. It is important to make sure your attitude doesn’t reflect on your work. Becoming employed in a part-time highschool job can make this a difficult feat to accomplish, but just a slight shift in your attitude can change everything.

    I’ve worked five years in a shift managing retail position, a job that is very stressful and sometimes hard to want to remain there. However, I will disagree with the comment made on knowing when a new member won’t work out. I go in with confidence and learn by observing, so questions are out of my character. I watch my trainer and learn that way, and when something doesn’t make sense then I ask. Though I do understand the importance in asking if overconfidence is a relentless problem in your job history.

    When questions are asked, though, it can demonstrate a willingness to learn and an interest in your job. It’s good to ask for feedback when you aren’t entirely sure with your performance. Constructive criticism can help guide you into being a more successful employee.

  • I am a perfectionist and loath redundancy and making mistakes. I often find myself asking as many questions as possible while working in school or at my job. I always like to take a moment of time to ensure that I have a clear and concise idea of what I am supposed to be doing. I enjoy evaluating the work that I do to be sure that I am solving problems or performing a task in the best possible manner. I enjoy working with others who also share these qualities and have accomplished much through teamwork.

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