How you think you are perceived by others and how you are actually perceived by others. If you’ve never given this much thought, or don’t really care how others see you, this might be the single most important piece you read this year if in reality, the difference in the two is great.
So why should you care? After all, aren’t the opinions of others exactly that; their opinions? And aren’t there all kinds of quotes out there advising you to not let the opinions of others change who you are? That sounds like something you’d take as good advice. It is good advice. Isn’t it?
Actually, how you are perceived by others is of tremendous importance and if you’ve never sought out honest feedback, I suggest you make a point of doing so. You may find that others see you pretty close to the way you present yourself. If this is the case, give yourself credit for projecting your self-image through your actions and words accurately. This then, is the best you can hope for; that you’re happy with how you perceive yourself and you’re being assessed by others in a similarly positive way. When this occurs, you can go on being truly yourself, not having to work on anything in particular.
However, even when how you perceive yourself is a shared perception with others, it could still mean you aren’t entirely satisfied. For example, if you think you come across as uninspired and lacking in confidence and others tell you that yes, in fact they see you the same way, your self-awareness may be accurate but you may still wish to work on changing that perception. In this example, you would move to determining how to go about altering that shared perception, and then taking steps to actually do so.
A different scenario however – and one of a much greater concern – is when how you perceive yourself is in stark contrast to others see you and yours is positive while theirs is not. Ask yourself this: would you want to know the truth about how you are truly perceived by others if the feedback you received was less than flattering? Imagine that you are blissfully unaware of how your powerful voice just shuts down all other conversations around you. While not intentional, people don’t feel like competing for airspace, so they politely listen but inside, they think, “My goodness he/she should use their inside voice! Why do they have to dominate every conversation!”
Could you take that feedback? Or as an alternative situation, everyone in the staff lunchroom is constantly amazed at how unattractive you are when eating. Somehow, chewing with your mouth closed isn’t something you learned. While you’re perfectly well-mannered in every other area, it’s absolutely a turn-off to see all that food you’re consuming. Again, would you be grateful for being told or would you be defensive and feel others should mind their own business?
Not many people talk about self-perception vs the perception of others. In the long list of skills to work on and strengths and weaknesses, it’s low down on many people’s list or not even on it – until it becomes an issue. Your career can be capped, your advancement halted, your opportunity for more responsibility and the accompanying compensation that goes with it dead in the water if you don’t pay attention to this.
If you’re fortunate, you work with others who both know you well enough to have an informed opinion and who will share that opinion with you out of concern for your welfare. It’s up to you to create the climate in which they feel safe enough to share honestly. This feedback is something you’ll either get delivered bluntly and straight-forward for the asking, or you may find people start off gently, checking to see how you receive mild criticism before they lay something larger on you – if there’s something they believe you really should know and may not want to hear. For the third time, would you want to know?
Now, it could be that you get a lot of positive feedback; four or five nice things that make you feel good about yourself. That is validation and everyone likes to feel good and appreciated. It’s that one thing however, that habit or behaviour your hearing someone speak of that you’ll likely focus on. Remember the good. It’s good to remind yourself that being perceived 100% positively by everyone you come into contact with is actually unrealistic. Don’t we all have areas we could improve on? Sure we do.
Checking out how you come across to others and asking for feedback with sincerity and appreciation is the only way you’re going to really check on how accurately you see yourself and assume you are seen by others. Management will have their impressions, and those might work in your favour or not depending on how they perceive you’ll be to work with at the next level. Do you have the skills, experience, attitude, personality and chemistry to fit in? Will you represent the organization well in social or professional networking situations?
Of course when you get feedback from others, aside from checking that feedback against how you see yourself, you then need to decide if you are motivated to alter your behaviour, in order to change the perception of others to be more aligned with how you wish to be perceived.