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How to Know If You're the Obstacle at Work

Updated: May 26, 2022

We all know them. The people at work who say things like “We already tried that 5 years ago. Doubt it will work now.” Or the ones who have a list of “considerations” or questions that need to be fully answered before moving forward on a new idea. These folks can feel like gatekeepers or barriers to our progress.

But how do you know if you’re one of them? This came up recently with a friend. He said,

“I’m beginning to think I’m the obstacle at work that everyone reads a self-help article about.”

He broached an important topic; we know quickly when someone else stands in the way of our work. How do we know when we’re doing it to someone else? Said another way, what level of self-awareness do you have about your behavior at work and how it impacts others?

Self-awareness is an important aspect of emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.” (Forbes).

It’s no surprise that self-aware, emotionally intelligent people tend to not only perform better and lead more effectively but also have healthier relationships (Harvard Business Review).

So, if you are indeed an obstacle at work and unaware of it, this lack of self-awareness is probably showing up in other areas of your career (and life). This means, you might not be achieving all that you could.

It’s worth examining. Here are a few obstacles you could be throwing in another’s path and what to do instead.


Start noticing how much airtime you take in a meeting. Do you find yourself talking the longest or speaking up most frequently? You might be stifling the ideas of others.

This is a common behavior in people who have longer tenure on a team and thus, have more experience. They share their experience freely and the obstacles and challenges that have come with it. The intention is to prevent the team from experiencing those challenges again. A worthy motive but this obstacle, the over-sharing of experience, often shuts down other team members and their unique perspectives. Teams need multiple perspectives, ideas, and opinions to get to the best solution.

Try being the last person to speak up by listening to others first. Then, share your ideas succinctly after everyone has had a chance.

Lack of Curiosity

When you listen to another’s ideas and perspective, do you follow-up with your opinion, or do you seek to learn more?

It’s common to react to another’s idea with your own thoughts about it. In your mind, you’re merely responding to a suggestion or proposal, and you have an opinion about it. The problem is that you might be responding to incomplete information.

Most of us flesh out new ideas through an iterative process. Such as a back-and-forth dialogue that uncovers different perspective, challenges, and opportunities. Comments or stated opinions can sound finite and close a conversation before both an idea is fully understood.

Asking questions or displaying curiosity does the opposite. It perpetuates idea generation and teases out details resulting in a more fully formed idea.

Before your next meeting, write down 3-5 questions you will ask before commenting on anyone’s ideas. Practice displaying curiosity before stating your opinions.

Weak Follow-Through

For most professionals, this is a tough one to swallow. No one wants to be known as the person with weak follow-through. This is displayed by slow email response times or not responding at all, delayed decision-making, or delivering on work past agreed upon deadlines.

Certainly, if you engage in any of these activities, (in your head) you have a good reason. You’re overworked, someone else was late getting information to you, or you unexpectedly had to do something else. All legitimate reasons.

But your teammates can’t read your mind. People who are deemed to have weak follow-through more likely have poor communication. For example, the email doesn’t get a reply because they don’t know how to say no to the request. Or, they recognize the report will be sent late but don’t know how to renegotiate deadlines.

Whatever the case, if any of these situations pertain to you, know that your follow-through (or lack thereof) is the obstacle in someone else’s path to progress.

Here’s what to do, take stock of where your follow through is subpar. Maybe it’s email response times, attendance at meetings, or meeting deadlines. Pick one to improve upon. Here’s an article that might help: Understand Behavior Change to Improve Productivity Or, if you’re unsure, ask a trusted colleague for feedback. Here’s how: How to Ask for Feedback and Receive it Well

Everyone, at some point, will be an obstacle at work. We do it to protect others from the challenges we have experienced or to advocate for different ideas. But because of these justifications, we often don’t realize we’re an obstacle. Our lack of self-awareness is holding us and the team back. Becoming more self-aware is the first step to improving everyone’s performance.

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.

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