Managing Your Workplace Reputation
We’ve all experienced situations in the workplace when our best intentions were not received as we intended. Maybe you’ve been accused of being intimidating in meetings but feel that you’re just sharing your thoughts, being assertive. Perhaps you’ve been told you don’t speak up enough and come across as disengaged, but you see yourself as being a good listener. As if our in-person presence isn’t enough, Forbes points out that we now also have the challenge of our online reputation to consider and manage at work. These differences in how others perceive us and how we see ourselves occur every day in business, resulting in miscommunication that distracts from productivity.
So Who's Right? It Depends…
Our office reputation is fluid. How we are perceived can change drastically depending on our environment, like who we are with. For example, if you are in a meeting with six introverts, you might leave feeling like the chattiest person in the room, even if you are only slightly more social than they are. Directly following, you might enter a sales meeting where everyone is competing to speak, and you suddenly feel like you’re an introvert. The way people see us and the way we see ourselves in these meetings changes every time there is a new combination of people put together, explaining why it can be tough to manage your workplace reputation!
Complication number two: misinterpretation. How we prefer to be treated differs from person to person. Let’s use the idea of respect as an example. Respect to one person might mean saying what’s on your mind at all times to ensure transparency and honesty, while respect to another person is speaking up only when you feel you can contribute something positive to a situation. You can see how even our ideas of basic concepts that we theoretically align with, can cause simple misperceptions about behavior. Harvard Business Review’s “How Are You Perceived at Work?” challenges us to close the gap between how people perceive us and how we want to be seen. HBR notes that we are often completely unaware of what we project. Our faces say more than we know when we’re thinking and listening, and our emotions can be confusing to interpret. So, what are the steps to reconciling how we’re perceived and what we experience?
Address the Problem
The first step of aligning our intended actions and how we come across to others is simple - awareness. Simply understanding some common areas where people differ most and are likely to experience conflict will help you decide where your behavior could be tweaked. Let’s dive into a few of these frequently seen, vast personality differences.
- Sensitivity - Assertiveness is the trait that causes the most miscommunication and conflict. Whether you’re on the high or low end of the spectrum, you’ve likely been a victim of being seen as domineering and argumentative or unconfident and weak under pressure. Your use of tactful versus candid approach, the sensitivity used when communicating with others, has a huge impact on your workplace reputation regardless of your intention when communicating. This gap in style can cause damage to a workplace relationship when not addressed properly.
- Control - The insistence for or avoidance of process and control in the workplace is another disruptor that can cause misunderstandings between coworkers. Often, polarized views will spend time pushing more for their ideal amount of structure in an environment, when likely, a middle ground is needed for optimal productivity and innovation.
- Energy - Whether it’s social, emotional, or physical energy, there is a lot of room for misinterpreting behavior. Someone who enjoys a lot of social activity may find more reserved people rude, not understanding that social activity truly drains them and leaves them irritable. A person with less natural social energy sees their reserved behavior as conserving their limited resources in order to prevent burnout. If each side took time to reflect on and inquire about another’s motives, a lot could be reconciled and efficiency can improve.
It’s important to look at every situation and viewpoint objectively. The differences we experience cause pain points in communication, but they also allow for different points of view that give us a more complete picture of the workforce as a whole. According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, diversity of thought is the new frontier for innovation.
Transparency is Key
Once you understand how your actions are perceived, be transparent with co-workers about your intentions and have honest conversations about how they prefer to be treated. Ask questions like, “Do you prefer when I email you or chat with you face-to-face?” and “Is it more effective when I ‘tell it like it is’ or provide context around feedback?”.
These conversations show that you are open to other points of view and willing to budge on your preferences to meet the needs of the business and your coworkers. Many times, a willingness to compromise is enough to build trust and overcome conflict.
Deloitte’s 2019 report also states that training is the most popular solution to increasing and accepting workforce diversity. Research shows that nearly one-half of the midsize companies in the United States mandate diversity training, as do nearly all the Fortune500. While diversity is becoming a priority throughout businesses, we should note that most of this focus is on surface diversity (race and gender) and very little is deep diversity (mindset, perspective, and personality). Birkman’s Mindset training sheds light on the downfall of using just one perspective to make business decisions. Mindset challenges us to remember that the reality each of us sees is only our reality and that we should question what we think at all times to understand that there are other valid viewpoints in our workplace. While we don’t have to understand or submit to another person’s way of thinking about a project or problem, we should be aware that the differences exist and try to face them head on when possible through open dialogue. After all, our unique viewpoints are what drive innovation when we make room for ideas that aren’t our own.
Action Plan - Determine steps to improve how you’re perceived by others
As we mentioned, it’s important to leverage peer feedback to improve your performance. Using a 360 assessment like the Birkman 360 can jump-start your journey to discovering the difference between self and public perception. Unlike a typical “top-down” employee review, this survey incorporates feedback on your performance from multiple perspectives. These appraisals can involve the employee, supervisors, direct reports and peers, and illuminate the difference between your self-evaluation and how you are perceived by your peers.
Having conversations to assess the areas where you’re viewed differently than you’d like to be will put you on the path to improving those areas. Determining ways to improve how you’re perceived by others can easily be overdone or underdone depending on our tendencies to self-reflect. Some might take this step and throw out any advice from others. On the other hand, it’s also important to not simply see others’ feedback as criticism and start changing all of your habits. Start with one or two small, personal changes to improve your communication with co-workers.
A willingness to tweak your natural responses to situations and make an effort to understand and appreciate your peers’ differing perceptions has the potential to shift the dynamic of your work relationships, increase productivity, and better control your workplace reputation.