This just in–work is hard. It’s difficult enough to show up how we’d like: as confident versus insecure, as open to feedback instead of fearing criticism, or as emotionally intelligent instead of callous.

And you sure as heck don’t want to show up as anything less than fully able and competent.

But our habits sometimes betray us.

We can’t be “on” 100 percent of the time. But there are times when misfires can downgrade you from superstar to suspect.

Watch out for these five traps to command the room versus coming across incompetent.

1. Not knowing foundational facts.

This means knowing your business–the brand, competitors, industry, customers, consumers, business model, and core strategies. All of it.

When I encounter someone falling down here, the most common excuse is: “I don’t have time for all the backdrop, I need to make things happen”. But this foundational understanding is how you make the right things happen.

2. Being inarticulate.

You’re not alone if you sometimes struggle here. Linked In CEO Jeff Weiner indicatescommunication is the one job skill that is lacking more than any other among today’s workforce. But not addressing this kills careers.

Here’s help–a useful mnemonic I use with coaching clients. Remember to be SHARP when communicating:

Start by thinking, not talking. “I think out loud” is the enemy of clear and concise.

Hone in on the main idea quickly. Don’t wander, or they’ll wonder what your point is.

Add details sparingly. Don’t over-explain. Give just as much context as is necessary.

Relate to the audience. Know who you’re talking to and why. Tailor accordingly.

Prepare. “Winging it” and clarity are mortal enemies.

3. Not bringing the “A” game to “A” situations.

This is when suboptimal performance happens in high stakes (“A”) situations. “A” situations include big meetings, pivotal points in a project’s life, or a crisis, for example. The lack of “A” game might look like a highly flawed recommendation, failure to anticipate questions/pushbacks, or poor delivery of key messages, for example.

Know which situations are your “moments of truth”, be prepared for them, and know what success is in these moments. Ask co-workers or your boss to help you prepare. I loved when employees asked me for help here and always felt it was time well spent.

4. Having no ideas.

No one said you have to be the dream invitee to brainstorming sessions. But contributing business building thoughts once in a while is a must.

If original ideas aren’t your thing, look for ways to springboard off existing ideas, making them stronger. Turn off your self-monitoring brain to generate more ideas and draw inspiration from the end user of your product or service. In my experience, some of the best ideas come from someone getting close to the end user and identifying unmet or unarticulated needs.

5. Not asking for help.

This one seems counterintuitive. Asking for help signals incompetence, right?

Nope. Just the opposite. It’s a sign of wisdom, not weakness. It’s about how you go about asking for help. You just need some helping HANDS, as taken from my book Find the Fire:

Have a specific ask. Articulate why you need exactly what help. Research showed panhandlers that asked for $.37 got a better financial outcome than those who just asked for money in general.

When we’re specific in our ask, it gives people the concrete criteria to decide if they want to help or not and allows them to better visualize/imagine giving that help.

Ask for advice versus help. Advice seeking is a different, easier bridge to getting help. This is because you’re merely seeking information to inform a course of action and flattering the other person by showing you value their experience.

Never ask timidly. We often don’t ask for help for fear of being rejected or that we’ll inconvenience the other person.

My own research shows we consistently underestimate how willing others are to help. In one experiment I gave respondents a task requiring help from a stranger. 70 percent of strangers agreed to help. Respondents predicted it would be 25 percent.

So ask away and do so with confidence.

Do your due diligence. It’s one thing to help someone helpless, but quite another when you’re asked by someone being helpless. Don’t be that guy/girl.

Make yourself helpable by showing up prepared, having exhausted what you can do on your own, being ready to explain what’s been tried and why it didn’t work, why you feel the person you’re asking is the right one, and what you’ll do with the help if given.

Start by being helpful. It’s easier to ask for help when you know you’re a helpful person. And being helpful triggers a desire for reciprocity.

So take control of others taking away that you’re in control.

Originally published on Inc.

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