Gustav Flaubert said “There is no truth, there is only perception.” This is especially true in the workplace.
Have you ever been in a group of your colleagues when someone says “Gosh, you’re exactly like Joe from accounting” and you think to yourself, “I’m nothing like Joe, what is she talking about?”
We all have perceptions of ourselves and those perceptions may change depending upon where we are. You may view yourself at home with family as kind, patient, and giving. In the workplace, you may perceive yourself as smart, someone that people can turn to, gets the job done.
Unfortunately, others may think of you differently. Smart turns into arrogant; gets the job done turns into self-promoter. Within your work environment, how others perceive you, whether its managers, colleagues or those that report to you, can influence the trajectory of your career.
If you’re beginning to feel that you’re being left out of meetings or not getting the assignments you want, it could be a perception problem. It might be wise to take the time to find out and here are some basic steps that can help you recalibrate.
First, be honest with yourself.
This is the first and probably the most important thing you can do – think honestly about your behavior.
- What does your body language say about how you feel or what you’re thinking?
- What tone of voice do you use when dealing with peers and team members?
- Do you take advantage of your position?
- If you’re having problems at home, does everyone know about it at work?
- Are you highly emotional when you don’t agree with someone or when you want to get your point across and be heard?
- Do you sit back and not interact during meetings or company events?
All or some of these questions can help you begin to understand how you are perceived at work.
Ask for feedback.
This second step is a natural segue from the first.
Some organizations put leadership members through an exercise called a 360 Review. This often used organizational instrument asks those that work for you, your manager(s) and your colleagues questions about you, your behavior and how you handle certain situations. All responses are anonymous so the answers are often unvarnished and the insights can be eye opening.
If you haven’t gone through this exercise, ask others how they see you. It’s not easy to ask for honest feedback and you may find what others have to say as difficult. If you don’t agree with what others are saying, don’t argue. Ask for examples and take it in so that you have time to reflect and process the gap between how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself.
Begin to Make Changes.
Once you have some feedback and have had time to reflect, start taking some steps to make changes.
If you feel you may not be able to make lasting changes, you may want to seek the assistance of a professional coach. I once asked what the difference was between a coach and a therapist and was told, if a client tells me she can't make cold calls, I don't care why she can't do it, I just give her the tools to get it done. If you can't afford a coach, then start small. Remember changing ingrained behaviors is difficult.... really, really difficult. So try to tackle one issue at a time.
If you come into work, get coffee and close the door or put on headphones and get to work, stop. Keep your door open, stop for a few minutes to chat with colleagues before hunkering down. If you never say a word at a meeting, speak up. One question or comment lets others know you're listening and engaged.
Keep in mind that effective behavior change comes from repeating it over and over. It's like riding a bicycle. The first time you were afraid and unsure and uncomforable. The second time, a little less so and on and on. Now, because you rode your bicycle hundreds of times, you don't even think about it, you just do it. Remember repeat, repeat, repeat.
Finally, perceptions will not change immediately, but the more consistent you are with new behaviors, the quicker you will see others reacting differently towards you.
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