8 personality traits that could derail your career, according to psychology

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

It’s a common assumption that the brightest and the smartest among us are guaranteed successful careers. We often think that sheer intelligence and talent will automatically pave our way to professional triumph. 

Yet, the reality of the workplace tells us a different story. Success isn’t solely about how much you know or how skilled you are; it’s also about who you are. 

Your personality plays a huge role in shaping your career path, sometimes in ways you might not expect. This notion forces us to consider the bigger picture of career success, where personality traits hold as much sway as professional skills. 

Today, let’s take a look at the personality traits that can hold you back in the workplace, according to psychology:

1) Perfectionism

Surely, being painstaking and having sky-high standards will get you on the fast track at work, right? 

Not so fast. Apparently, perfectionism can actually be more of a disadvantage than an advantage. 

In a discussion with IDEAS.TED.COM, Dr. Thomas Greenspon explains that perfection is a reflection of anxiety. 

And that in fact, “the most highly successful people are actually less likely to be perfectionistic, because perfectionism can leave you overwhelmed by doubt and indecision and make it difficult to bring any task to a conclusion.”

Reflecting on my own journey, I can see the truth in Dr. Greenspon’s words. My perfectionism, though well-intentioned, often left me feeling stuck, second-guessing every decision and fearing to make mistakes. 

It was a cycle that not only slowed me down but also chipped away at my confidence and well-being. 

Breaking free from its shackles has been a liberating experience – it was hard to do at first, but eventually it helped me find joy in the process rather than just the outcome.

2) Fear of failure

Incidentally, fear of failure is connected to perfectionism as well. But even if you’re not a perfectionist, you could still be intimately familiar with this fear. 

It’s a pretty universal trait, this nagging voice that whispers, “What if I’m not good enough?” or “What if I fail?” 

However, what distinguishes the successful ones from the not-so-successful is the ability to overcome it. 

Take the story of Steven Spielberg, for example. Before becoming one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Spielberg faced rejection multiple times. 

Instead of letting this deter him, he continued to pursue his passion for filmmaking, eventually directing iconic films.

Similarly, J.K. Rowling was famously rejected by twelve publishers before “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” finally found a home.

She once said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.” 

Rowling’s journey is a powerful testament to the idea that fear of failure is but a stepping stone on the path to success. 

The point is, you might be scared, and that’s okay. After all, as Franklin Roosevelt said, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

I hope you see that advancing in your career is more important than that fear!

3) Overconfidence

However, don’t go to the extreme end of the fear spectrum and get overconfident either. 

Self-confidence is essential for getting you to the top, but too much of it? That can backfire. 

Researcher David Dunning calls this “the anosognosia of everyday life,” which is basically a condition wherein individuals lacking in certain skills are blissfully unaware of their deficiencies.

In essence, this concept is widely known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, which highlights a psychological blind spot affecting perceived ability and actual competence.

The problem with this is that it can lead to serious consequences. When we overestimate our abilities, we’re more likely to take unwarranted risks, overlook important details, or fail to prepare adequately for challenges. 

This not only jeopardizes our own goals but can also have ripple effects on our teams and projects. 

For instance, in leadership positions, an overconfident approach might lead to underestimating the complexity of tasks, overpromising results, or failing to listen to valuable feedback from team members.

To strike the right balance, self-awareness is key. Engage in regular self-reflection and seek feedback from others. This can provide external perspectives to help you gauge your abilities more accurately. 

Which brings me to my next point…

4) Aversion to feedback

Look, it’s never easy to listen to criticism. It’s never pleasant to have to face your flaws and weak spots. 

But face it you must if you want to advance in your career. 

The ability to receive feedback (or conversely, the lack of it) comes down to what psychologists call “feedback orientation.” 

Simply put, people who like to boost their ego often look for feedback because it helps them see what they’re doing right and stop what’s not working. 

On the other hand, people who are scared of hearing they’re not perfect tend to avoid feedback altogether.

If receiving feedback is a struggle for you, here are a few tips to go about it: 

  • Approach feedback with an open mind and a sense of curiosity. Treat it as an opportunity to learn rather than a personal attack. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” 
  • Pause before responding to give yourself a moment to process the feedback before reacting. This pause allows you to manage your initial emotional response and approach the situation more rationally. Consider thanking the person for their feedback to acknowledge their perspective and give yourself time to think about your next steps.
  • If the feedback isn’t clear or you find it hard to understand how it applies to you, don’t hesitate to ask for specific examples. This can help you grasp the practical implications of what’s being said and how you can apply the feedback to improve. 

5) Resistance to change

Obviously, with the world moving as fast as it does, you either step up or get left behind. 

So, it’s no wonder that companies want employees who can welcome and adapt to change. After all, studies show that organizational change is hugely dependent on the attitude and response of their employees toward change. 

So, if you tend to prefer stability and routine over change and innovation, it might be time to consider stretching yourself a bit more. You’ll definitely be seen as someone worth taking along to the next level. 

6) Procrastination

It’s no secret that procrastination impacts productivity, and these two concepts affect job performance. 

Yet, so many of us still procrastinate. I totally understand – I’ve had my own weak moments as well.  The allure of putting off tasks until the last minute can be strong, especially when faced with daunting or unpleasant tasks.

However, it can really derail your career because it leads to a cycle of stress, lower quality work, and missed opportunities. 

When you procrastinate, you’re not just delaying tasks; you’re also building up a wall of anxiety and stress that makes it even harder to start. 

This can result in rushing to complete tasks at the last minute, which often compromises the quality of your work. Over time, this pattern can tarnish your reputation, making you seem unreliable or incapable of handling responsibilities.

Moreover, chronic procrastination can prevent you from reaching your full potential. Opportunities for growth and advancement often require proactive effort and the willingness to tackle challenges head-on. 

By procrastinating, you might miss out on these opportunities or fail to prepare adequately for them, limiting your career progression.

7) Lack of assertiveness

Have you ever held back your opinion during a meeting, only to hear someone else voice a similar idea and receive praise? 

You might miss opportunities for advancement this way. When you don’t speak up about your achievements or express interest in taking on new challenges, you may be overlooked for promotions or high-profile projects. 

Leaders and decision-makers can’t read minds; if you’re not advocating for yourself, you risk being left behind as more vocal colleagues advance.

8) Low emotional intelligence

Finally, we get to the biggest trait that could derail your career. You see, research shows that more than IQ, emotional intelligence is the biggest predictor of success in the workplace. 

It’s not just about how smart you are, or how well you can do the job technically. It’s about how you handle yourself and your relationships. 

Emotional intelligence involves: 

  • Understanding your own emotions and managing them in a healthy way
  • Recognizing the emotions of others
  • Building strong working relationships

Now, you might be wondering why low emotional intelligence could be such a deal-breaker. Well, the modern workplace is a complex network of interactions that require teamwork, leadership, and the ability to navigate through conflicts and challenges smoothly. 

Without a high level of emotional intelligence, you might find it difficult to collaborate effectively, lead a team, or even handle the everyday stresses that come with professional life.

Furthermore, emotional intelligence plays a critical role in handling stress and making decisions. 

In high-pressure situations, individuals with high EI remain calm, think clearly, and make informed choices. Meanwhile, those with lower EI may become overwhelmed, react impulsively, or shut down altogether.

In light of this, it’s clear that developing your emotional intelligence is not just beneficial but essential for career success. 

Final thoughts

To sum up, getting ahead at work isn’t just about leveraging our strengths but also about understanding the impact of certain personality traits that could set us back. 

Embracing self-improvement and seeking balance can help us avoid career derailment and move closer to achieving our professional goals.

Let’s take these insights as a call to action, to foster self-awareness, and to actively work on becoming the architects of our own success.

10 unusual methods highly intelligent people use to manage stress and burnout

If you want to be truly successful, say hello to these 17 productivity habits