How to Make Sure Who You Are Doesn’t Ruin Your Career

By Susan DeLazaro, M.S.

Things have been tense in the office for awhile now, but last Friday, it came to a head. Jane, the talented and outrageous marketing director for a global apparel company, stirred up trouble—again. One of her staff made the mistake of pushing an idea in a meeting that was different from Jane’s, and instead of hearing him out, Jane publicly berated his idea. After the meeting, doors slammed, whispering and gossip ensued, and her direct report left the office early and in tears. Jane’s behavior had finally reached the point where her boss couldn’t look the other way. Jane is “that one” who for years has been allowed to behave badly because she delivers so smashingly well.

Now Human Resources needs to figure out how to help this highly educated, numbers-driven, and painfully difficult person to soften her approach. When HR asked about her outburst, Jane nonchalantly and confidently stated, “you know, it’s just who I am and how I’ve always been.” With one staff member already out on a stress claim, Jane is headed for coaching, not realizing how close she is to being fired and ruining her career.

“It’s just who I am” is one of those classic excuses people use to explain bad behavior in and out of the workplace. We may not be as harsh as Jane, but we’ve all had moments when we are our own worst enemies. For Jane, these moments have added up to the point where—like a leak in a tire—she is slowly deflating all the progress she’s made over the course of her career.

How can this excuse ruin a career? In short, it’s an excuse for bad behavior that’s both avoidable and can cause a lot of damage in the workplace. Jane is describing what she thinks is her personality. Personality—or who you are—is the collection of your motivations, needs, and preferences (like preferring groups to working alone, or having a serious side versus a lighter side). By your early 20s, your personality traits have stabilized and won’t change. How you behave is partly driven by your personality and by a set of skills called emotional intelligence (EQ) that you can acquire and develop throughout your life. By using EQ skills, Jane could have chosen a better response to her direct report that wouldn’t have jeopardized her career.

There are actually five excuses that Jane leans on when behaving badly. In addition to being lame, these excuses can each ruin her career. Let’s take a look at the beliefs that fuel Jane’s excuses and the insights that can save her from falling prey to these lame responses.

  1. “You can’t change me. I am who I am.” 
  2. “I’d have to change my personality to please everyone.”
  3. “There are good personalities and bad personalities.”
  4. “Sometimes personalities just don’t mix well—and I can live with that.”
  5. “I’m a people person (except on bad days).”
  1. “You can’t change me. I am who I am.” In some ways, this is true. You can’t change your personality, or who you are, but you can use EQ skills to manage yourself and your interactions so they are productive. With Jane, it appears that she is comfortable with who she is—even at the expense of her relationships. She has equated “talented and outrageous” with a free pass to say anything to anyone. Though Jane may not place a high value on relationships, she probably values her impact on the bottom line, and her outburst negatively affected another’s productivity. Using EQ skills isn’t intended to change the core of who you are, but they can give you the ability to be flexible and adapt to situations and people so there are positive outcomes.

    If Jane had practiced EQ strategies like taking a moment to think about what she was trying to achieve in that fateful moment, she may have chosen a calmer, more tactful response in the meeting with a more private discussion later. When Jane shares her belief with HR, “it’s just who I am,” she’s either unaware that she can choose a better path with her direct report or is revealing she is not interested in change. Either way, if left untreated, this is destined to be a career killer, where she loses her job and reputation.

  2. “I’d have to change my personality to please everyone.” It’s not so much about pleasing others as it is about having productive relationships and interactions with everyone, and no matter the personality, we all want to be productive. To be productive, you need to be able to use emotional intelligence skills to adapt to all kinds of people and situations. In Jane’s case, she needs to learn how to change her behavior so she can get the best from her staff—a win-win for Jane and her staff. Believing that you have to change your personality can ruin your career because it will be a frustrating battle that can’t be won. A much more viable solution is to acquire EQ skills.

  1. “There are good personalities and bad personalities.” After hearing about Jane, it’s easy to blame the situation on her personality, and classify it as “bad.” Truth is, it’s mostly low EQ that’s ruining Jane’s career, not her larger-than-life personality. If her EQ were more developed, she would have been aware of her emotions and tendencies and managed them to avoid the unnecessary outburst. Like Jane, we all have some traits that are strengths that pave the way for our success, as well as traits that we’d like to trade in. Jane’s traits won’t change, but using EQ skills to become aware of the outcomes of each, and then knowing how to play up the strengths of her personality and minimize the weaknesses, is critical to managing herself.
  2. “Sometimes personalities just don’t mix well—and I can live with that.” There’s truth in the statement that some personalities don’t mix. You’ll never see Jane and her direct report choosing to spend extra time together outside of work; but at work, passively “living with it” isn’t good enough. Jane’s way of “living with” these differences includes outbursts and not actively trying to work better with her direct report. The career ruiner here is that Jane is not as effective with her direct report as she could be. Being passive or indifferent about it shows that she’s not interested in moving the organization forward and collaborating with others—two attributes that in the long run won’t pay off for her or the organization. Learning more about personalities different than your own can help you manage and appreciate the diversity and creativity that stems from differing perspectives.
  3. “I’m a people person (except on bad days).” At first glance, being a people person sounds like a great quality, and not a career ruiner. Jane is normally outgoing and full of charisma, and considers herself a people person. But when she is stressed, it’s another story. She blurts out the wrong things at the wrong times, and doesn’t notice what’s going on with others throughout the day. Jane may be outgoing, but that doesn’t mean she’s skilled with people. She’s not a people person because she deems herself to be—it’s how others experience Jane that really counts (and her direct report certainly doesn’t think she’s people-oriented). Her career can be ruined with the blinders she wears regarding who she thinks she is versus how others perceive her. The quality of Jane’s interactions and relationships would improve substantially if she received feedback from others, and learned to manage herself under pressure using EQ skills.

    On the flip side, someone who wouldn’t consider herself to be a people person doesn’t mean that she’s not—she may be highly skilled when she interacts with people, even though naturally it’s not her preference. EQ skills are what make the difference.

Don’t Settle for Excuses and Chance Ruining Your Career

The excuses above got in the way of Jane’s success, and they can get in your way as well. Today, there’s not much room for excuses. Trying on new roles, being flexible, adapting to change (and the stress that accompanies it), and our skill at creating and nurturing relationships are all requirements at work today even if it’s not in our nature to do so. Thankfully, emotional intelligence is a set of skills that can be learned, so we don’t have to settle with “I am who I am” or any other excuse, no matter what our natural preferences are.

What You Can Do

Say goodbye to excuses and become more aware of your personality and your EQ skill level. Make learning about yourself and others a regular part of your lifelong professional development journey—not just a pit stop when you spot trouble ahead. Since personality is who you are, and EQ gets you where you need to go, you can work on both in tandem because they work together to increase your self-awareness and build on your strengths.

We all possess the distinct qualities of IQ, Personality, and EQ, and together they determine how we think and act. Of the three, though, EQ is the only quality that is flexible and able to change.


Jane’s bad behavior on Friday was the beginning of a self- awareness journey that HR asked her to take. With the help of a personality assessment (IDISCTM) and the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal®, she found that her behavior, excuses, and blind spots limited her performance as an effective leader. For the first time, she saw the disconnect between how she’s been operating and the ripple effect of her choices, that change is possible, and that delivering results isn’t enough—she’d need to be successful working with and through other people along the way.

TalentSmart® Has Solutions for the Jane In All Of Us

We’ve all been in Jane’s shoes at some point. If you’d like to learn more about your personality and your emotional intelligence, try one of these:

  1. If you like reading, try Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence 2.0—both books include self- assessments. Self-Awareness defines 14 personality types and shows how to discern your fixed traits, increase your understanding of yourself, and learn how to harness your strengths to succeed. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is the first book to offer a step-by-step program for increasing emotional intelligence using the four core EQ skills—self-awareness, self- management, social awareness, and relationship management.
  2. If you prefer to work online, try the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal—Me Edition and IDISC assessments, which come with online features so you can set, share, and track goals, plus view online video clips that show personality and EQ in action and help you to bridge the learning-doing gap.



Sue DeLazaro, M.S.

Sue DeLazaro leads TalentSmartEQ’s train-the-trainer certification sessions for training professionals around the world and prepares organizations to roll out EQ-based initiatives. In May of 2011, Training Magazine featured Sue as a Top Young Trainer award recipient. Sue is a contributor to TalentSmartEQ’s latest book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and holds an M.S. Degree in industrial-organizational psychology.

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