Think You Know How Others See You? Think Again

Last Updated May 13, 2011 8:03 PM EDT

Think You Know How Others See You Think AgainI'm going to go out on a limb here and say you probably think you know yourself pretty well. Well, guess what? There's probably no correlation between whether you think you know yourself and whether you really do. If anything, it's an inverse relationship.

No, that doesn't mean you're delusional. It means you're normal. After all, knowing yourself isn't just about self-perception; it's about how others perceive you, as well. And really, how many of us have the guts, time, and wherewithal to gather that information?

It requires an accurate - meaning anonymous and objective - 360 degree analysis of you from employees, peers, and management, something most of us never get.

Maybe I can motivate you to find out more about what those folks think of you if I tell you that it's the key to success at your job and maybe even in your career. And not just because these people are your key stakeholders at work, but because how they perceive you is arguably more relevant than how you perceive yourself.

Just think about it. You know the expression "perception is reality?" Well, they're not talking about self-perception, that's for sure. Let me ask you this:

  • Does it matter what a company's executives think of their own products and services? Of course not; it only matters what customers think.
  • How about what they think of their own leadership or management capability? No again, it's the opinion of the company's stakeholders that count.
Well, the same goes for you. And, as I alluded to a minute ago, the more sure you are that you're self-analysis would be dead-on accurate, the more likely that it's not. Why is that? Well, let's just say it has something to do with how your mind works, that walls work both ways, and leave it at that.

Just so you know, I'm not being critical. I'm the first to admit to being one of those managers who didn't know nearly as much about himself as he should have. To highlight that point, check out this comment from a reader - author Sylvia Lafair - from a previous post, "I bet you were an amazing boss, and before that a super employee."

Umm, hate to burst her and anyone else's bubble, but I'm relatively sure that, of all the adjectives former employees would use to describe me as a boss, I seriously doubt "amazing" would be one of them. And I'm not even going to touch the employee thing.

How do I know that? Well, let's just say that, for me, part of maturing and "growing up" in the business world included coming to terms with reality, including but certainly not limited to my weaknesses and limitations. I guess it helps to have open and friendly relationships with lots of people I've worked with in the past. Also thick skin and a sense of humor.

Most importantly, somewhere along the line I came to understand that a gap between how you and others perceive you isn't a good thing and doesn't bode well for the future. It's one of the underlying causes of why otherwise smart and capable people shoot themselves in the foot or self-destruct.

So, what's the practical, actionable advice here? It's simple, really. If you're reading this and thinking ...

  1. great information, but for somebody else because, well, of course I know myself;
  2. good stuff but I've got more important things to deal with right now;
  3. he's probably right but, frankly, I don't want to upset the apple cart; or
  4. what a load of BS psychobabble;
... then you're more than likely putting up a wall for any number of reasons that we really can't get into here. More importantly, that wall works in many ways. By hiding in that "safe zone" and limiting your genuine understanding of how others perceive you, you're limiting your own potential, career, and success, bigtime.

If, on the other hand, you genuinely seek out and take to heart what others think of you, then you and your genuine sense of humor, humility, and openness will likely do very well. Keep up the good work.

As for me, I'm still working on it.

Also check out:

  1. How Not to Manage Your Boss
  2. 6 Priceless Business Lessons
  3. The 7 Habits of Highly Innovative People
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Image: Schizoform via Flickr