I Don’t Care What People Think

–Being a Good Manager Requires Self-Reflection

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?


Sarah Elkins
Sarah Elkins
Sarah is a communication coach, Gallup certified Strengths coach, keynote speaker, writer, and professional musician. Sarah uses storytelling as the foundation of her work with management teams and individual clients to improve communication and relationships. Her podcast, Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will focuses on storytelling themes, the primary concept being that the stories you choose to tell - and how you choose to tell them - impact your internal messages and the perception of those around you. Her podcast was named in the top 50 in the category of emotional intelligence on Her passion for connecting people and helping them learn to better connect with others is embodied in the events she hosts, No Longer Virtual, which are small, interactive conferences based on the theme of connecting beyond the keyboard, recognized twice by Forbes as “Can’t Miss Events for Entrepreneurs” in 2017 & 2018.

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    • Thanks, Mary! I’m often a bit surprised when people don’t realize when they’re getting in their own way with their behavior, but then I look at my own misunderstandings and see why that happens… too bad we can’t give ourselves advice we will actually listen to!

  1. Inspiring people to truly want to follow you in how you present yourself and they perceive you to be is such a fascinating topic. Much food for thought, Sarah! I believe the words integrity and thoughtfulness go a long way in interactions to creating a positive connection.

    • Right, Maureen. We can’t really control how others perceive us, but we can be intentional with our actions so it’s more likely those perceptions match our intention, right?

  2. Great reminder here to be aware of our words and deeds with others with whom we interact on a regular basis- especially in work situations. If people are frightened of your words, the way you say them, you’ll be surrounded by individuals in some form of fight/flight/freeze-not optimal for bringing out the best in others. This applies to bosses, colleagues, educators, etc.. Thank you for bringing this important topic to our attention, Sarah.

  3. Wow Sarah Elkins we really do care what people think about us…even when the lie of not caring is expoused.
    Many times in the past I used that line, and Ive listened to others use it too. Its more of a defense against revealing vulnerability and percieved emotional weakness. When maturity and self esteem kick it, a big dose of humility follows. The bravado “I don’t care” becomes, “tell me how can we fix this together” or even an apology may be extended. Yes, we all care because we are human
    Even the toughest nut can crack, and its ok to care.

  4. Time is certainly a great truth detector, is it not? We are continually being measured, compared, looked at, certainly for the current interaction and what is in the here and now, but also as how we measure up against previous interactions. The power of a bad first impression can be hard to live down and correct. Your emphasis on being consistent and intentional are so powerful and can never be overvalued or underestimated. So many people view isolated interactions as being “one and done.” When in reality, every day, in every way, we rehearse what we become. An actor does not rehearse their part over and over and over just to go on stage and be a different character, in the same way, we can’t hope to continually, consistently act in one way and then hope to be seen or thought of in another way. And we can’t hold off on being what we want to be, until that day when it fits our mood, or the company that we surround ourselves with. Incrementally, every day, we are acting and deciding on who we are, and how people will see us.

    Awesome stuff, Sarah, you always have the ability to bring cogent, powerful messages that aren’t rocket science, but you present them in ways that cause us to pause, reflect and then internalize. These reminders are so valuable, thanks for sharing them.

    • As always, thank you for your thoughtful reflections, Tom. This something I spend a lot of time on with my coaching clients, being more intentional, and understanding the consequences of your behavior on your relationships. As far as I’m concerned, communication like this is the key to healthy, satisfying relationships.