Have you noticed that some people seem to get more lucky breaks than others who are equally competent? It’s almost as if there’s an invisible force at work.

When I tried to give a colleague a great opportunity, I came across just such an invisible force. It’s called the “vibe” people get about you and even though it’s intangible – like a colorless, odorless gas – it’s present and working for (or against) you.

Vibes are based on the often unconscious cues and clues you transmit about your attitude, mindset and basic approach to life in what you say and do, including how you sit, stand, move and use facial expressions.

So here’s the story about my colleague – let’s call her Clara:

I thought of Clara as a highly competent banker – calm, measured, rational, serious about her work. Yet, when I suggested to my department head that she take over one of my key client relationships (I had just gotten promoted to a product role), he was not supportive.

When I asked why, he shook his head and said, “there’s something about the ‘vibe’ she gives off that makes it hard to bond with her – she’s cold, clinical. I don’t think we should risk it with such an important client.”

I wondered if Clara knew this about herself, or whether she would agree. But with that assessment, she was unlikely to be a serious candidate for promotion to Managing Director.

I recalled the time when she walked out of a group event in a huff when the after-dinner cigars came out. And it’s true that she rarely joked around or participated in team activities. While no single event was definitive, I could see that when taken together they created a vibe. One that became career limiting.

Clara ended up leaving and getting promoted at another firm a few years later. Perhaps the environment there was a better fit and her vibe either became more positive or landed more positively. Through it all, there’s no question that she was hugely competent, but that wasn’t enough.

Your vibe matters

If you want to be a leader, your vibe matters. It contributes to your ability to be successful. And it can drag you down and cause you to underperform your potential.

There are two aspects to your vibe:

  • What it signals about you. For example, do people get the feeling that you are trustworthy or underhanded, confident or insecure, competent or unreliable, caring or indifferent?
  • The effect it has on others. Basically, do you make others feel positive, energized and motivated, or do you bring them down?

What’s important is that you get to know what vibe you give off, and that it matches your intention. You don’t want to be inadvertently undermining yourself.

5 negative vibes to watch out for

With that in mind, here are five negative vibes to watch out for, along with the behavior that could lead others to pick up the wrong vibe, and what you could do instead.

  1. Untrustworthy vibe: when you say, “Can you cut some corners/take a short cut to make the deadline?” vs. “Is there a simpler way to do this so we can make the deadline?”.
  1. Unconfident vibe: when you say, “Uhmm…yes, I think so” vs. “Yes” or “I’m not sure, but I’ll check and get back to you”.
  1. Incompetent vibe: when you do the equivalent of an eye surgeon hovering over her instruments as she decides which one to pick up versus deciding first and then crisply executing.
  1. Indifference vibe: when you say, “I don’t care how you do it” vs. “I leave it to you to choose how you’d like to get this done”. Those three words, “I don’t care”, can inflict more pain than even criticism – it makes people feel they don’t matter, or that what they’re working on doesn’t matter.
  1. Demotivating vibe: when you think and therefore behave based on, “These people are idiots who can’t do anything right!” vs. “How could I help them learn, grow and improve?”.

Remember, people want leaders who give out a positive vibe, so don’t fall into these negative traps. It reminds me of the classic World War II movie “Kelly’s Heroes” when one of the men starts criticizing the plan for getting out alive, and the Donald Sutherland character says, “Hey, man – no negative waves!”

So, what kind of “vibe” do you give off to others? And is that helping or hurting the cause?