“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.
Shaping others’ perceptions of you is key to moving forward in your career. 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.