Are you a team player or a pushover?

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(MoneyWatch) Nobody at work wants to be seen as a pushover, but some people fall into the role naturally -- in or out of the office. How can you tell if you're a team player or a sap? The former motivates a team to do their best work while showcasing his or her own talents, while the latter does more work than everyone else but gets no credit for it.

Here are five situations that separate team players from pushovers. Look at them as prime times to show you're a strong, valuable member of your team -- and eventually get promoted.

Your team does a great job. Let's say your team knocks a project so far out of the park that the CEO notices and asks you how your team came up with their ideas. "The pushover makes sure to acknowledge everyone's contributions but doesn't mention his or her own,"  says consultant Deborah Busser of the Camden Consulting Group. "They don't believe it is possible to talk about what they brought to the group without sounding like they are tooting their own horn." By contrast, team players promote themselves without hogging the spotlight. "They acknowledge the contributions of everyone on the team, but they make sure to mention how they personally added value too," says Busser.

Your team falls short. Sometimes the team you're on or leading misses the mark. So what do you say when your boss asks you what happened? "The pushover automatically and immediately takes the blame. Maybe he doesn't really believe it is his fault, but he doesn't trust that others will back him up. Or maybe, he doesn't think it is his fault, but that taking the blame will win him some friends or brownie points down the road," says Busser. Instead, the team player explains how the mistake happened while acknowledging his or her part in the process. "Team players believe that the team can always improve and will try to use the experience as a learning opportunity that will make them all stronger," Busser says.

You try for a promotion. If you want to be promoted, you have to promote yourself. "Employees whose resumes look similar on paper often experience greater ease or difficulty in getting promoted depending on if and how they are willing to tell their stories," Busser says. Pushovers might be shy, expect to be noticed naturally or lack the confidence to showcase their accomplishments. Team players, on the other hand, regularly schedule meetings with their managers to discuss goals -- and humbly summarize their successes. "Team players tend to get tapped for promotions first, just for having had the courage to start the dialogue."

You decide on your holiday schedule. If you don't have holiday plans, then working over the holidays can make perfect sense. But if you're a pushover, you might say yes to working through December for the wrong reasons. "Pushovers are willing to be the martyr in the misguided hope of buying some good will. However, since most people don't want to believe that they are the kind of people to take advantage of others, the pushover's sacrifice is quickly forgotten," Busser says. Team players actively negotiate with their co-workers so everyone gets a fair -- not perfect -- holiday schedule. "Speaking up to try and find a solution is empowering on its own and reinforces others' perceptions of their being a team player."

You get a last-minute deadline. It is noon on Friday and the company's most valuable client has just requested a report to be delivered first thing Monday morning. What do you do? "The pushover assumes that many on the team will not be able to contribute over the weekend and immediately cancels her own weekend plans, so that she can work on the report. They may be uncomfortable to state their needs or ask for help, or it may not even occur to them ask," says Busser. The team player, instead, brings the team in to come up with a plan that works for everyone. "The team player believes that creating a plan that leverages everyone's contributions makes them a stronger team and results in a better work product."

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including, and and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit