Is your attitude subtly toxic?

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 starts 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.

Get the ebook! If you liked what you read here, and think you may want to refer back to this guide later, grab the Kindle version – we’re hoping you’ll thank us with a five-star review on Amazon if you found this material helpful. The ebook also includes our job search guide.

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  • Nathan Rauscher

    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.

  • Kelsey Musick

    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.

  • George Richards

    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.

  • Allison Josselet

    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.

  • Alexis_Ippolitto

    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.

  • Richard Pieri

    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.

  • Sophie Pollitt-Cohen

    I have found this to be extremely true. After working at our company for nearly three years, I got a promotion that put me in charge of the entire branding department, managing people instead of creating the content myself. I was overly confident in myself and the ways I had produced this work in the past, so I did not trust anyone else to do things correctly. I was hesitant to delegate or share broader strategic goals. This kind of toxic thinking led to two major problems. The products suffered, because I was not allowing my smart and capable co-workers to work freely. Additionally, our ability to collaborate and work as a team suffered, because by withholding my larger strategic concepts from my team, I made them feel undervalued and as if I did not respect their ideas.

    I solved this by spreading my confidence around – removing a lot from myself and placing it on my team. I had to remember that my co-workers are more than capable, and to do their best work I had to give them the room to make mistakes and take chances. Additionally, I had to remember that my confidence in myself was not always a good thing. I had made plenty of mistakes in the past and not always produced perfect work. In the end, by delegating and opening up more lines of communication, our collaboration improved, and so did the work we produced.

  • Laura_Powell

    This topic really hits home for me. I am a paralegal working in the law office setting for the past five years. When I first began working in a law firm, I always assumed that I would be bothering or annoying the attorneys if I asked them questions. My usual course of action was to just attempt to complete the assignment and assume the attorney would later tell me if I should have done it differently. I quickly learned this was not the best approach. I found that my generally it is better to ask and do it correctly the first time. Otherwise you are just creating more work for both you and your attorney, which is a sure way to actually annoy them!

    I have found that asking questions shows your boss your true level of interest in both the field you work in and your particular job. Asking questions can also give you chance to learn more from your boss about areas you didn’t even know you had questions about. In my experience you often don’t even realize there is a more efficient or better way to do things unless you ask questions of your supervisors and co-workers. It is important to find that balance in your individual work place, know what questions are important to ask, know when is the best time to approach your boss, know how to clearly and concisely communicate your questions, and don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions!

  • Dejia Manoli

    I have noticed in myself that I do have a “toxic” attitude. I tend to get frustrated quickly when dealing with people and it makes me cranky or rude. I also have a hard time standing up for myself and being firm in my thoughts in he workplace. This article helped me see ways to deal with that.

  • Sarah Groenwald

    I’ve found that a curious attitude is particularly helpful in job interviews; if I have questions about the job that show I’m thinking about the responsibilities and problems associated with it, I find that I’m more likely to get a job. The interviewer seems more confident in a potential employee who asks questions.

  • Olivia

    I always will ask my boss/employer questions because I feel that it lets them know that you are critically thinking

    about things and that you’re not just a drone who continues to work without any thoughts or emotions. Along

    with asking questions, its equally important to be a great listener. If you are able to successfully incorporate

    those two into your life then you will have a wonderful communicative relationship with you company.

  • boudy93

    Trying to find a way to be helpful is a positive way to stay connected in the workplace. It is easy to ask some questions, be a good listener and see if there is a place you can get involved in your new job. chosen for top 75 websites for your career

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About the author


In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.