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5 Ways You Might be Undermining Your Authority

Are these habits hurting your influence in the workplace? An expert tells you how to identify and correct them.
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Sometimes the little things can make a big difference. For example, people who frequently use personal pronouns like "I" and "me" in small group interactions may be more viewed as more insecure than people who use more inclusive pronouns like "we" and "us," according to a new report published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology. Those who focused on first-person language were perceived to be more concerned with themselves that with the needs of others.

But there are also a number of other habits that can be showing your discomfort in leading or otherwise undermining your management authority, says Angie Segal, a business coach with Silver Spring, Md.-based business coaching franchise, ActionCOACH.

Here are five influence-robbing tics to watch out for:

1. Laughing nervously.
Segal sees many managers to who pepper their language with nervous laughter. It's a sign of discomfort or nervousness, and it can be a serious challenge to your authority, she says.

"If you give a direction, then follow up with a little chuckle, you've indicated that what the listener heard you say was frivolous," she says. The solution is to pay attention to when you laugh and make sure that you're serious when you need to be.

2. Hitting the high notes.
The tendency to raise your intonation at that the end of a sentence so sounds like question strips your statements of authority. It's difficult for people to discern whether you're asking them a question or giving them direction, Segal says. Commonly referred to as "uptalk," it is a relatively common among young managers and often belies discomfort with their leadership roles. Recording yourself during conference calls or presentations when the pressure is on can help you identify this tendency and correct it.

Related: Leadership: Nature or Nurture?

3. Avoiding eye contact.
Failure to make eye contact can be a big drain on your authority. Looking someone straight in the eye while delivering instructions or news makes you seem in control and trustworthy. Failure to do so can make you seem like you're hiding something, Segal says. Always look people in the eye when speaking. If you're speaking to multiple people, work on making eye contact with as many as possible during the course of your talk.

4. Being the buddy.
Segal says that managers who are promoted to lead peers often make the mistake of being too chummy with their employees. This is a tough boundary to draw, but being everyone's best friend makes it difficult to make hard decisions and give disciplined direction when it’s time to do so. This also opens the door for employees to take advantage of you, assuming you’re not going to be a disciplinarian, Segal says. Speak frankly to your direct reports about your goals and expectations and, as challenging as it might be, stick to the rules.

5. Dodging responsibility.
Some managers dodge responsibility for unpopular decisions by saying things like, "I don't make the rules." Segal says this is a critical mistake for managers. When you lead people, you need to make them feel inspired about the goal. It's tough to do that when you're planting seeds of unhappiness and divisiveness. Instead, present the direction or goal in the best light possible and outline your plan for working together to accomplish it.

Related: Which of These 4 Types of Managers Are You?