“People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy after.”
~ Oliver Goldsmith ~
A client—we’ll call him Steve—told me he knew a man who sucked all the oxygen out of the room. This person was brilliant, but he talked way too much and annoyed everyone around him. He never knew this because people weren’t willing to tell him and he never asked for feedback on how he was perceived.
Do you know how you are perceived by others in your organization? Even if you think you do, do you really? One of the best ways find out is to simply ask.
Get feedback from your immediate manager, peer, someone you don’t report to, someone more senior than you, your boss’s boss, from your key customers or others outside the organization. Knowing how others perceive you plays a very important role in your own self development.
Here are eight tips to help you ask for, and learn from, feedback so that you will be able to influence how others perceive you at work:
1. Choose the right time and place when asking for feedback.
Select a time when you and the person you’re asking for feedback aren’t busy or preoccupied with other matters. Conduct the conversation in a private place where there will be minimal distractions. It also might help to schedule the meeting in advance to give that person time to think about how you’re perceived and not just offer off-the-cuff responses. Also, when you schedule your conversation in advance, it underscores that you’re serious and consider this a priority.
2. Explain why you’re interested in learning how you’re perceived.
Be sincere and honest. You might say, “I want to make sure I’m projecting a professional image, Sarah. You’ve seen me interact with customers and vendors when we’ve had problems. How do I come across in those situations?”
3. Make it clear you’re not fishing for compliments; you want their honest assessment.
People may hold back or tell you what they think you want to hear. They’re afraid of hurting your feelings or that you might become defensive. Sometimes it helps to admit a personal flaw or shortcoming to encourage people to open up. For example, “I know I get impatient and sometimes interrupt people to get to the point. I’m trying to work on that. Are there other things people have mentioned to you about my personal style?”
4. Above all: DON’T GET DEFENSIVE!
Even though you don’t intend it, you may come across as defensive by the language you use. When someone shares less than positive feedback, avoid confrontational, in-your-face questions like, “What do you mean?” or “Why do you say that?” or “Does everybody feel that way about me?”
5. Ask for specific examples.
If the feedback is critical or sensitive, take the emotion out of the situation focusing on specific examples of the behavior in question. “Gosh, Jim, I didn’t realize that some people think I always have to do things my way. I certainly don’t want to give that impression. Can you think of any examples recently where I’ve done that? Where I might have turned some people off?”
6. Thank them for their feedback.
May it clear you appreciate their feedback. Also, show you’re serious at self-improvement by enlisting their help in the future. For example, “I’ll try to focus on not dominating conversations, Judy. I really do want to hear other people’s opinions. But if I suffer a relapse, let me know, okay? I won’t take it personally. Just give me a friendly reminder to ‘cool your jets.'”
7. Repeat the process with others.
Solicit feedback from others to confirm or clarify areas that indicate improvement or attention. Look for patterns or common themes. Then work to transform these negative perceptions.
8. Take action.
If you handled these feedback sessions skillfully, you now have valuable intelligence that can go a long way at making you a more effective worker/boss/colleague, etc. Develop an action plan to address the negative perceptions you may be creating, and look for opportunities to emphasize the positive perceptions you hope to convey. Remember that perceptions play a critical role in career advancement and success.
Changing perceptions is the first step in Joel’s PVI formula, which he teaches to his executive coaching clients to help them advance more quickly up the career ladder. If you’re ready to start changing perceptions and increasing your visibility in order to influence your way to the top, sign up for Joel’s career advancement coaching.
Talkback: Do you know how your co-workers perceive you? In what areas do you need to work on changing their perceptions?
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“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt ~
Client Jonathan Asks: Several of my co-workers like to spread stories without checking to make sure they are true. Recently, someone shared an inaccurate and favorable story about me. What can I do to mitigate the damage?
Coach Joel Answers: Everyone is susceptible to gossip stories at work. But what if the stories are about you? And, even more disturbing, what if they are erroneous and could harm your reputation? Chances are, this won’t happen to you. But, if it does, it’s important to take action.
Once unfavorable stories get created they often get cemented in as a permanent perspective of who you are. This perception becomes their reality and everything else you do reinforces how others see you.
You can have 50 examples of trustworthiness and one false representation and this one malicious example undermines everything else.
During your constant interactions at work it’s possible that things you do might get misinterpreted in a way that is not accurate.
For example, you might be seen as unreliable because you didn’t get something done ontime or be viewed as a loose cannon because you speak up and say things at client meetings that are not appropriate. Some of these stories might be true, but often they aren’t reflective of who you really are at work. The problem is one or two negative stories can cement a perception of you that is actually inaccurate.
Here is a seven-step process to help you deal with workplace gossip and change negative misperceptions into positive (or neutral) ones:
Step 1: Gather information about the unfavorable story.
Without getting emotional or defensive gather as much information as you can about the unfavorable story. This fact-gathering stage is key. You don’t want to fly off the handle, confront someone and make matters even worse.
Step 2: Dispel the unfavorable story.
Go to the source of the story – the person who believes or is communicating the misperception – and explain your situation. Discuss your perspective and what you felt actually happened. Provide enough information so the person understands exactly the truth from your perspective. You could say, “Hi, Carla. I hear you may have some concerns about what I said at the client meeting. Could you tell me about them?” And then, after hearing the other person out, provide your perspective of why you spoke out like you did.
Step 3: Ask about other misperceived stories.
Ask the person if they have any other stories that they would like to share. When you hear the new stories, explain what actually happened versus what was perceived. Provide greater understanding of how these stories could have been misinterpreted.
Step 4: Take responsibility for what you did.
Even though you may not agree with the misperception, you most likely can find some things that you can be accountable for. Show that you have learned a lesson and what you take from this situation. Come up with some examples of what you’ll do differently based on what you have learned.
Step 5: Share favorable stories.
When a person observes something unfavorable, this image gets stuck in their mind. Counter the negative perception by coming up with ways and examples of how you haven’t been that which they think you are. If they think you are untrustworthy, come up with three or four stories illustrating your trustworthiness. These other stories help balance out a one-sided and limited perspective.
Step 6: Ask the person to give you another chance.
Explain how you don’t want to be stuck in their view of something that happened in the past. You sincerely desire to be given another chance to prove yourself. It’s not fair for you to be punished by something that happened only once or it occurred years ago. Get the person to take a risk on you and let you try again. The risk is minimal with tremendous potential upside.
Step 7: Thank the person for their honesty and willingness to help you.
This is one of the best ways to enhance your reputation and clear up any misunderstandings.
Since your career advancement depends on other people’s perceptions of you, it’s important to take action quickly when negative stories about you surface. Get valuable feeback about the way you are perceived at work by completing the perception evaluation here.
Talkback: Have you ever been the subject of unfavorable gossip at work? How did you deal with it?
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“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”
~ Socrates ~
Do you ever feel like your boss simply doesn’t appreciate you? Are you stuck in the same job, unable to advance, with your salary frozen at the same miserable rate? You could be a victim of your own bad habits—habits that may have earned you a bad reputation.
And it doesn’t take a dramatic faux pas—like swinging from the chandelier and calling your boss an idiot during a staff party—to slaughter your reputation. Sometimes, it is the little things that earn us a bad rap.
Here are a few of the little things you might be doing that could be ruining your career.
1. Exuding sloppiness. Does your workspace look like the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust? A disorganized, cluttered desk creates the impression that you have sloppy work habits and can’t keep on top of things.
Do your clothes look like you’ve slept in them? An unkempt appearance sends the message that you are either too lazy to pick up an iron or you simply don’t care.
Maintaining a tidy and organized work area and a professional appearance will do wonders to clean up your damaged or bad reputation.
2. Doing the bare minimum. Every office has its clock-watchers—the ones who can never be found before starting time and leave at five o’clock sharp. No matter how busy the office is, their breaks are a top priority. They are unavailable to work overtime or take extra shifts. And they avoid tasks that are not part of their job description.
Technically, these individuals aren’t doing anything wrong. They are working during their assigned working hours—but they are unwilling to go the proverbial extra mile. And amongst their bosses and co-workers they are creating a lasting, negative impression—one that will greatly hamper their career.
Do you find yourself staring at the clock, getting ready to leave five minutes before quitting time, and dropping everything to take your coffee break? These seemingly benign actions may be earning you a bad reputation.
3. Moaning. Perpetually complaining, badmouthing co-workers, or having a negative attitude can kill staff morale and poison an office’s atmosphere. These employees are likely to require removal—and this equates to either a dead-end position or the end of the unemployment line.
Employers appreciate staff members who are enthusiastic about making a positive contribution to the company—and they reward them accordingly. Ensure that your interactions have a positive impact on those around you.
4. Having a bad online reputation. Have you repeatedly been turned down for promotions or new employment and don’t understand why? Perhaps you need to examine your internet reputation.
You can bet that prospective employers and clientele will check you out online. That is why it is imperative that you ensure that your photos and comments on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and other social media are appropriate. Make sure you delete anything that you wouldn’t want your future boss to see—because it can never be “unseen.” And the damage to your reputation cannot be undone.
5. Clinging to “old school.” Yes, maybe you have done it that way for the past twenty years. And, yes, your boss has heard the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to change with the times. Being inflexible and unwilling to adapt will quickly earn you a bad reputation and make employers wonder why they keep you around.
If new technologies intimidate you, ask for help, take a course, or buy yourself a Dummies Guide. Never simply refuse to learn.
It doesn’t take a grandiose display of stupidity to annihilate your professional reputation—sometimes it’s just the accumulation of little things. By simply ceasing to engage in these easy-to-fix behaviors, you can greatly enhance how others perceive you—and greatly improve your career path.
Talkback: What are the little things you might be doing that could be impacting your career success negatively? What are you doing to fix this?
Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer, novelist, and avid blogger who loves to use words to entertain and educate.
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Conflict among staff can occur because of the things we say or how we act. It can also occur when our body language communicates things we might not be aware of. To increase harmony in the office, consider training employees to develop a recognition of the importance of body language and give them skills to master it.
When we listen to people, we also read their body language to see if it is in sync with their words. Most people recognize the body language that says: I’m interested, I’m not interested, I’m busy, please listen to me.
But some people are less aware of body language. When they ignore these messages or misread them, tension and irritation occurs. Training employees to develop awareness of other people’s body language and the unspoken messages they send can create more trust and harmony in the work place. It’s worth the effort.
1. Give Voice to Body Language. If you find that meetings are disrupted by annoying fidgeting or conversations are distracted by the listener staring off into space, it may be time to talk about and train your staff on this topic. Consider role playing to show the messages sent so even the less sensitive workers recognize the language of the body. Video tape staff speaking or listening so they can see their own body language.
Often people are highly critical when they see themselves on screen. Balance their views with supportive staff who point out the messages they see in their coworker’s body language. When body language is addressed head on and out in the open, employees develop more sensitivity to their physical actions as well as being in tune with others.
2. Body language that shows more than you want. The key effectiveness of body language is that it helps others discern a person’s true feelings. While you might think you are talking pleasantly to someone you’re angry with, your body language will tell a different story. Help employees develop coping strategies.
- Check your emotions. Before you talk with a person or enter a meeting, evaluate how you feel about the people you will see. If you feel angry, frustrated, or condescending toward anyone there, watch out! Be very careful your body is not exhibiting your emotions.
- Be honest. The easiest way to gain great body language is to have good emotions and communication skills. If you are interested, if you are paying attention, if you are respectful to your co workers, your body will automatically broadcast those emotions.
3. Body Language that lies. As you train and develop your employees, help them recognize the internal and external reasons body language may not represent the “truth.”
- If a person is hungry or needs to relieve him or herself, the stresses of the body will be reflected in actions. The fidgeting, hunching the body, or glancing at the clock might be misinterpreted as disinterest, when the causes are biological. Help your employees avoid sending these incorrect messages by planning ahead and not going into meetings or events hungry or stressed. A chilly room may cause crossed arms.
- Illness—either temporary or long-running can affect our body language. Help employees be aware of others who have ADHD or Tourette’s or any of a host of other medical problems that may cause them to act differently.
Offices run smoother when conflicts are kept to a minimum through understanding and respect. One effective way to make this happen is through training employees to be aware of their own body language and to not misunderstand the body language of those around them.
Contact Joel to find out more about training and developing employees.
Talkback: What annoying body language have you faced? Was there ever a time when you thought you understood someone’s body language and discovered you were mistaken?
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