Although we like to think that the way we see our own behaviors and how we intend
to project ourselves in the world matches perfectly with how others also see us, it’s easy to be blindsided by significant disconnects between the two. The result can be an unexplained stall in your career where you find yourself passed over for promotions and discover that others are not anxious to work with you, join your team or recommend you for advancement.
Psychologists call that disconnect the Transparency Illusion; it’s when you labor under the false belief that how you think you are presenting in the world is actually the same as what others see.
“What we think we’re projecting and how others actually experience us in the workplace can be two very different things,” explains Sara Canaday, author of You According to Them
and Leadership Unchained
. “When they don’t line up, it can create hidden hurdles to realizing the success you want and are working so hard to achieve.” Canaday will share insights to help you better understand your professional reputation as an educational breakout session speaker at the 2022 WFF Leadership Conference
March 20-22 live in Dallas and virtually.
Getting to the truth
People with exceptional technical skills and strong competencies in their discipline can find themselves unable to advance to higher levels in an organization if they lack the people and communication skills required to lead. “Often, for high-potential people to advance into leadership positions where they will manage across multiple teams and through dynamic environments, they need to understand how their current behaviors help or hinder their professional reputation,” Canaday explains.
That process typically starts with asking probing questions of candid sources to develop what faculty member in Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership, Kristi Hedges, calls a “collective impression.” Writing in Harvard Business Review
, she suggests selecting five people who have worked with you on an ongoing basis (including supervisors, direct reports, peers and even former colleagues) and asking for a one-on-one meeting.
Let them know you want candid feedback and that everything they share with you will remain confidential. Then, she suggests, pose these two questions: “What’s the general perception of me?” And, “What could I do differently that would have the greatest impact on my success?”
Using what you learn
The feedback you receive in these conversations may be difficult to hear and even harder to accept. It will be critical to prepare yourself ahead of time and commit to being open and non-defensive. You can seek clarification around feedback being shared or ask for specific examples, but avoid refuting, offering excuses or becoming emotional or hostile. That will send a clear message to the other person to back pedal or disengage.
As long as you have selected people you trust and whose opinions you value, try to think of their honest feedback as career gold. They are providing you with the building blocks for change and greater advancement. Of course, if the feedback from one person just doesn’t jibe with the overall themes you’re seeing from others, you may need to consider it an outlier. You are likely to gain your greatest insights from points that get repeated and common themes that emerge.
Change behaviors to change impressions
Remember that the way others see you or interpret your behavior doesn’t have to accurately reflect what you are actually thinking. What you are learning is how you are perceived, regardless of what you think you are projecting. If others experience your leadership style as demeaning or uninterested in the opinions of others, you will need to dive deeper into the aspects of your behavior that inadvertently send those messages and adjust them to create a new and different impression. The same is true if you are seen as lacking confidence, self-absorbed or not a team player.
“By digging into your reputation and learning how to tweak subtle behaviors and unconscious habits, you can drive more effective interactions and become an even better, still authentic, version of yourself and accelerate professional progress,” Canaday says.
The feedback gained through such conversations will help you address any gaps between what you want others to say that it’s like to work with you, and what they are currently saying. It takes courage to ask for such candid feedback, but armed with that information, you will be empowered to change your behaviors, change how you are perceived and get your career on track for greater advancement.
to attend the 2022 WFF Leadership Conference to learn with experts like Canaday and others, network with industry colleagues and be inspired by keynote speakers and some of the most influential leaders in the Food Industry.