I asked my client how she would want people to describe her after a conversation. She said: Smart, a hard worker, caring. Her colleagues had shared a few things about my client that were less than complimentary, which is why I started our conversation that way.
“Do you think people describe you that way now?”
“Maybe not at work.”
“How do people describe you at work?”
“A bully. Aggressive. Ambitious – not in a good way.”
“Hmmm… those are not flattering words, and they’re clearly not the words you used in the beginning of our conversation, smart, a hard worker, and caring.”
“Well, I don’t care what people think.”
And that’s where so many of us go wrong.
We have an idea about how we want to be perceived, but our actions and behaviors don’t take us even close to where we want to be. We know we want to be known as kind, considerate, helpful, but when we don’t consistently demonstrate those behaviors in our actions and words, we leave it to others to define us.
“A bully. Ouch. Why do you think they believe that about you? What are you doing or saying that’s leading them to this conclusion?”
She answered with pretty specific examples, but still insisted she didn’t care what people think of her.
“Do you want to be a manager at some point in your career? Are you interested in leading a team and moving up through the ranks here, or somewhere else?”
“Yes! I’ve always known I’d make a great manager.”
“I’m sure you will. Let’s go back a little in our conversation. You say you don’t care what your colleagues think of you, and that it’s okay that they describe you as a bully and aggressive, right?
Given those descriptions, how effective do you think you’ll be in leading a team if they have to follow you vs. want to follow you? If the people you supervise are afraid of you, struggle with trusting you, do you think they’ll work to their full potential, bring their best efforts to their work? Would you?”
I could see the lightbulb go on in her eyes, though the rest of her expression remained stoic.
The conversation shifted to her strengths, and how she could use what she’s good at to improve her relationships with people with opposite strengths. We talked about the language she has been using, why it might be misunderstood, and how her frustration with those misunderstandings cause serious tension in her workplace.
As she left our session, I could tell she was deep in thought about how to shift the perceptions of her team.
“They won’t believe the changes in you right away. It’s going to take time and consistent effort on your part to rebuild their trust so they believe you are really trying to improve your communication with them. Be patient. Be consistent. They’ll come around.”
You don’t have to care what everyone thinks of you, but you do have to care about what certain people think of you. If you have any ambition to be a great manager or leader, if you have any desire to have strong and healthy relationships, start by being intentional about how you want to be perceived. Start with consistent actions and behaviors that demonstrate exactly how you want to be known.
If you insult people online or in person, you are not known as kind or thoughtful.
If you don’t consistently pick up after your dog, you won’t be known as considerate.
If you always have an excuse to not show up when you say you will, you will not be known as reliable or trustworthy.
Think about the words you want people to use when they describe you, and compare every interaction with those words. Are they true today? Are they true right now?