How Do Others Perceive You?
All You Have to Do Is Ask

“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?

Office Politics for Introverts

Sticky Notes

“From the backstabbing co-worker to the meddling sister-in-law, you are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. . . Take control and choose to focus on what is important.”

~ Anais Nin ~

Mary Ann is caught in a downward spiral. She manages a department for a mid-sized manufacturing company and the atmosphere at work has gotten so negative lately that she hates going to work—at a job she used to love. She knows it’s time to confront the office politics. However, as an introvert she would rather avoid any conflict or confrontation necessary to resolve these issues.

Office politics leads to negative behavior. Left unchecked, this can have dangerous consequences. According to Gordon Davidson, writing in the Kamloops Daily News, “Workplace politics is a broad term for many events at work such as passive-aggressive sabotage, gossip, turf wars, scapegoating, power struggles, sibling rivalries, office romances, favoritism, dysfunctional decision making: all kinds of things that cause stress, burnout and eventually depression,” says Davidson. “It’s one of the leading causes for disability claims, absenteeism and family distress.”

Exactly what Mary Ann has been experiencing. She could just shrug it off or blame it on a bad economy or bad weather. Instead she decides it’s up to her to turn things around. She embarks on a mission to figure out what’s happening and why. This is a difficult step for her and most introverts handling office politics. If you’re experiencing a similar syndrome, you may want to follow these three simple steps:

• Isolate trouble spots
• Take it public
• Accentuate the positive

1. Isolate trouble spots. Mary Ann began to observe her environment more closely so she could see where the negative sentiments were coming from. If you’re in a similar situation, ask yourself: Is top management modeling this negative vibe? Are people only focusing on what hasn’t been done, instead of appreciating what has? Is the negative sentiment coming from a single source or multiple sources? Mary Ann determined that hers was a departmental issue, based on demands of a fast-growing business, plus the volume and pace of work.

2. Take it public. Mary Ann’s next move was to bring the problem out in the open. She first discussed what she was experiencing with her boss. If trouble is brewing, management needs to be aware and know that you’re working on the problem. Next, call an all-hands meeting. Share your observations and ask people to express their feelings. Whatever is bringing people down, whether it’s a disagreement between two team members or a mini-rebellion against work overload, a frank discussion of the situation is the first step toward resolving it.

3. Accentuate the positive. To quote Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Your team may not experience an overnight attitude adjustment, but you can. Every person you meet with, from one-on-ones to team meetings, find out what’s going well. Focus on that. Every time you share about the company or your situation with others, focus on the positive first. Notice what the team and individuals are doing well and talk it up. Most importantly, take five minutes a day and write down all the things that you personally are doing well, all the areas that feel positive to you. When you begin to feel positive, you’ll act positive and the feeling will spread.

Mary Ann’s department didn’t change overnight and yours won’t either. The negative attitudes brought on by office politics can spread faster than the common cold. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you, and everyone else, will begin to feel better.

If office politics is creating a bad environment in your workplace, Joel has some suggestions for you. Contact him and start solving your problem today. 

Talkback: What’s your office politics story? Share your problems and solutions here. If your an introvert how have you dealt with difficult office politics at work?

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Your Hidden Language: Training Employees to Develop Positive Body Language

Body Language

“The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein ~

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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Seven Things to NEVER Say to Your Boss

Mouth Closed
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

~ Colin Powell ~

Increase your personal development and career potential as you master these areas of communication with your boss.  Great communication demonstrates growth and maturity.  Poor communication sabotages your advancement.  Eliminate these words and the values they illustrate and see your influence and recognition rise.

1. “It was nothing.” “No big deal.”  When you can’t accept a compliment, you show a lack of confidence in yourself.  After all, if you don’t think it’s a good job, why should anyone else? When your boss compliments you, don’t denigrate yourself.  He is praising your skills and accomplishments.  Own them.  Sometimes people down-play their achievements due to a false sense of modesty.  If you want to move your career forward, accept these compliments with graciousness.   Say “Thank you.”  Smile.

2. “Well, I emailed you about that a week ago.”  This statement tells your boss you think that once it’s off your desk, it’s no longer your responsibility.  It also suggests criticism of her for not finding it and reading it.  Taking personal responsibility for your career development means you follow up.  If you need feedback, send a gentle reminder.  Remember, email is not the only form of communication.  Pick up the phone and call… or walk down the hall and talk to the boss in person.  It takes more effort, but this stretch shows you take responsibility.

3. Sigh. You might deny it, but both you and your boss know that sighs can say 50 different things… most of them not good.  It might mean frustration, a feeling of over work, disgust that you’re forced to work with someone, do something, be somewhere you don’t like. Because you’re focused on improving yourself, watch how many times you sigh and ask yourself what caused them.  If necessary, use positive communication to express your thoughts.

4. “Not my problem.”  People looking to improve their careers can’t be perceived as lazy or uncaring. In reality, if it’s your boss’s problem, it becomes your problem.  Your job description includes a range of flexibility and your willingness to go the extra mile will go a long way in impressing the boss.

5. “That’s not the way we did it last time.” Traditions and ruts may indicate to your superiors that you’re not ready to take on different or innovative tasks.  In this changing economy, companies seek new ways to improve the bottom line.  They look for employees willing to come on board with that.

6. “I just bought a Ferrari.” Your boss is not all that concerned with your personal life.  Nor is he likely to be impressed if you have something bigger and better than he does. Keep personal things out of the office.  When conversations focus on business tasks, you’re more likely to be perceived as advancement material.

7. “Is this the best they could do?”  Whether it’s the new copy machine or the holiday bonus, criticizing the company’s policy or decisions will not make a good impression.  You might be viewed as feeling entitled.  If you can’t influence a decision or solve a problem, save your breath and focus on what will help you add value to the company…and your career.

Good communications require personal development and increasing maturity.  Think before you speak.  Make sure what you say reflects your best values and you will increase your chances to grow your career to greater heights.

Joel Garfinkle helps up and coming leaders understand specific steps to increase their personal development and advance their career potential.  . Contact Joel now to learn how he can move your career forward.  Or check out his newest book Getting Ahead

Talkback: What phrases have you heard that are career killers?  Have you seen the results of bad communication, or do you have an example of masterful communication?

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Use PVI to Propel Yourself Up the Corporate Ladder

Ladder to Success
“The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”

~ Dale Carnegie ~

Have you been passed up for promotions despite your hard work, knowledge, and experience? Do you feel like others keep climbing ahead of you on the corporate ladder? Why does this happen? Why do some employees quickly move ahead, while other good employees seem to be stuck where they’re at? The answer–they didn’t use perception, visibility and influence (PVI) to their advantage.

In my article entitled “Getting Ahead: Have More Influence” in the January 2012 issue of Personal Excellence, I provide three easy steps to using PVI to propel your professional career forward. Each step focuses on one of the three components of PVI. By the end of the article, you’ll have actionable steps you can begin to take to further your career.

  • Step 1 centers on perception and discusses how you can control how others perceive you. A positive perception will result in increased opportunities for you.
  • Step 2 discusses increasing your visibility and how to demonstrate leadership. By increasing your visibility, you will show others how valuable you are to the organization.
  • Finally, step 3 instructs you on exerting your influence up, down, and across the organizational chart. When you have influence within your company, others will willingly follow you. By following these three steps, you’ll find yourself leap-frogging over your peers to the top of the corporate ladder.

To learn how to use the PVI formula to get ahead in your career, read my new book, Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.

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