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Friday, 27 December 2013 00:00

Knowing how your co-workers see you is crucial to your career

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I recently worked with a coaching client, a senior executive at a mid-sized pharmaceutical company.  "I don't understand it," she said.  "I work hard, everyone likes me, and I've met all my targets for the past 5 years.  But I just can't seem to get promoted to VP, while other people who I know aren't performing as well as I do are moving past me up the ladder.  What's going on?"

closing the perception gap

Having worked with her organization in the past, I knew what the problem was:  Yes, she had a reputation for reliably delivering against targets.  But what she called 'working hard' was perceived by her co-workers and direct reports as 'obsessive and unable to let things go', and her desire to be 'liked by everyone' was seen by management as an inability to make the big decisions if she were put in a VP-level role.

The gap between my client's perception of herself and the way others perceived her was getting in the way of her career - and she's not alone.  Over the years, I've seen many people get stalled in the same gap.

So what can you do about it?

Closing the perception gap

No matter where you are in your career, knowing how the people you work with perceive you - and that it's the way you want to be perceived - on a day-to-day basis is crucial to being able to get ahead.

It's not just about being able to get that next promotion, either.  In my experience, the 'perception gap' can be your biggest obstacle when it comes to getting your projects completed on time, on budget, and with a minimum of headache.  When you're encountering resistance to your efforts to push a project through, you may not realize that you're in the middle of a perception gap.  You may be reading their resistance as concerns about budgets or timelines; in reality, it may be stemming from their concerns about your credibility within the organization based on their (possibly unfounded) perceptions of you.

You may never be able to close the gap completely, but you can make it lot smaller.  Here's how:

1.  Recognize that there is a gap.

It doesn't matter how self-aware you are or how honest you are with yourself:  There is going to be a gap between how you see yourself and how others see you.  Your self-perception includes information and experiences from all facets of your life; your co-workers only know the you they see at work.

2.  Understand that the gap isn't necessarily negative.

You may in fact be harder on yourself than others are.  My client, for example, had never taken accounting classes and assumed 'everyone' thought she was deficient in reading financial statements.  Her co-workers, in fact, had no such concerns - they thought she was perfectly capable.

3.  Solicit honest feedback - in writing, if possible.

Approach one direct report, one peer, and one senior manager with whom you've worked for at least a year and ask them for insight into your strengths and weaknesses.  (Tell them that you're looking for honest answers as part of your personal growth.)  What do they think you're fantastic at?  What do they think you struggle with?  What skill or trait do they most admire about you?  What characteristic drives them most nuts, or do they think gets in your way?  I guarantee you'll be surprised at the responses.

4.  Look for patterns.

If one person criticizes something about you, you can safely ignore it; but if everyone has the same criticism, it's time to at least consider they have a point.  So examine what your three co-workers had to say and look for consensus.  Anything that all three mentioned - as a strength or weakness - is probably a good indication of how most of your co-workers see you.

5.  Determine what's perception - and what's reality.

Maybe all three of your co-workers said that you seem to be a workaholic who doesn't know how to relax, and that sometimes alienates you from your team.  Now you have to ask yourself whether you are a workaholic - or whether you've just been trying to give that impression because you thought it was a positive trait.

6.  Create an action plan.

This can be the toughest part of the process, because it can involve changing yourself - or changing your job.  For example, if you're being perceived as a workaholic, but know that you're not, you may simply have to stop talking about how much you worked on the weekend all the time.  On the other hand, if your tendency to be a consensus-builder rather than a top-down leader is being perceived as a negative trait, you may want to consider finding a new job in an organization that values consensus-building.

The bottom line is that the more you know about the way you're being perceived within the organization, the better you'll be able to manage your career in the long run:  You'll be better eqipped to work effectively, and you'll be better positioned for long-term success.

 

Read 21816 times Last modified on Saturday, 28 December 2013 05:05

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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