Do you ever wonder how you’re perceived by others? What kind of person they think you are? How they see you as a boss, employee, neighbour, friend, son, daughter, parent, leader, sporting team member, teacher, business partner, trainer or maybe even potential life partner? Do you think about the type of impression you’ve made on people over time (be that a brief or long time)? If they had to describe you to someone else, what might they say? Do they see you as selfish? Generous? Nasty? Kind? Arrogant? Humble? Sincere? Shallow? Funny? Intense? Generous? Greedy? Inspiring? Boring? Intimidating? Warm? Strong? Weak? Genuine? Fake? Talented? Creative?
Do you ever wonder if the way ‘you see you’ (so to speak) is how others see you? Does it really matter? The answer to that question is yes and no. Sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn’t. Whether it matters could depend on a couple of things:
1. The situation. If you’re not sure what the guy who delivers your morning paper thinks of you, it probably doesn’t matter too much. Unless, of course, that guy is your brother.
2. The potential consequences of not knowing. If (for example) you’re a coach and your athletes are not motivated, empowered or inspired by your coaching or communication style (and you happen to be unaware of the fact); that’s a problem. If you think your charges like and respect you but they don’t, well, it matters. It’s in your interest to know how your team really sees things (you) – not for your ego – but in order for you to be able to do your job effectively.
If you’re trying to create a certain outcome at work (for example) and, in your mind (that is, your self-created reality), you see yourself as being a strong, powerful leader while those in your charge see you as being a self-important, power-tripping, egomaniac then, yes, it matters. You have a perception problem, an awareness problem and a communication issue. That is, your staff are not ‘getting’ what you believe you’re giving them. All too often, bosses see themselves as being strong, focused and assertive while (a percentage of) the people around them see them as intimidating, insensitive and unaware.
There have been numerous times over the last twenty-five years when what I believed I was ‘giving’ a person or group (motivation, direction, feedback), wasn’t what they felt they were ‘getting’ (intimidation, criticism). I’ve learned the hard way that even good intentions can create bad outcomes when I’m not in tune with my audience (team, group, client, etc.). I need to see the process (challenge, situation, problem) through their eyes and, more importantly, I need to see me through their eyes. Sounds weird I know, but trust me on it.
In any meaningful relationship – be that personal or professional – it is important that we have a level of insight into, and, understanding of, how people perceive us. Not so that we might stress, worry and become (more) insecure about what people think (we already do that too much) but, rather, so that we might develop more empowered, meaningful, productive and enjoyable relationships. Greater connection. Better understanding. More effective communication.
We can only make real progress with people when we begin to understand their (version of) reality. We don’t need to embrace it or agree with it, just understand it. And them.
So, should we get all weird, anxious and paranoid about what people think of us? Of course not; that’s a negative, not a positive. And totally not what this lesson is about. But, what we should do is endeavour to become more aware and ‘in tune’ when it comes to the issue of how we’re perceived by the people in our world. The greater our awareness (of how others see us), the more effective we become (on a range of levels), the more connection we create (which means better understanding) and the less relationship and communication problems we’ll experience.
As a speaker, writer and some-time radio presenter, it’s part of my ‘job’ to have people tell me what they think of me. How they see me. What they think of my ideas, messages and ‘performances’. Sometimes that feedback comes via a phone call (or an SMS) from an abusive (or happy) radio listener – who feels compelled to tell me I’m an ignorant dickhead (or a genius). Sometimes it arrives in the form of a comment or email from a visitor to this site. Readers are constantly giving feedback on what I write (the subject matter), how I write (my writing style) and what they think of me (as a person). Some of the feedback makes me feel great, some… not so much. But all of it gives me insight into – and understanding of – how people perceive me.
As a professional speaker, I usually receive a written ‘report’ from the organisation I have spoken for. This feedback is honest, direct, objective, anonymous (usually) and sometimes brutal. Sometimes glowing. What this kind of impartial, calculated feedback gives me is a clear picture of how I am perceived and received by my audiences – crucial (if not always comfortable) information for a speaker.
A few years ago, I took part in an event called a Speakers Showcase. One of the agencies I speak for (I am represented by a few) decided to hold the showcase at a local Casino. As I was new (on their books) they decided that I would be one of the eight speakers wheeled out to deliver a twenty minute ‘sample’ presentation for the would-be ‘buyers’ (for want of a better term) from various companies and organisations around Melbourne, Australia. The audience consisted of four hundred (or so) people whose sole job it was to evaluate me as a potential speaker for their conferences and professional development programs. They weren’t there to be educated, inspired or motivated by me. No, they were there to judge my performance.
I walked into the auditorium to do my thing and just when I thought I couldn’t be any less comfortable, I spied – what appeared to be – a table full of large(ish) remote controls. The ‘remote controls’ were handed to audience members and they turned out to be part of an electronic scoring system that allowed the ‘buyers’ to score me (across a range of criteria) as I spoke on stage. Let me tell you that it’s mildly(!) terrifying, distracting and disconcerting to watch people punching a ‘score’ into an electronic gizmo while you’re speaking to them.
“You wanna know what people think of you Craig? Here’s four hundred opinions!”
How do we become more aware of how people see us – not to be confused with obsessing (worrying) about what people think – in order to produce better results in our world? The answer is: consciously, intentionally and un-emotionally (that’s the tough bit). All the information is there, we just need to look for it and interpret it for what it is.
People are constantly telling us what they think and how they feel via their actions, behaviours, choices, reactions and body-language. The problem is we don’t pay attention. We don’t read the signs. We don’t ‘listen’ to the non-verbal stuff (which is the majority of communication). People’s physiology (facial expressions, eye contact, posture, hand movements, respiration and even perspiration levels) will usually tell us more than their words.
I’ve given the example before of the girl who buys her new car and chooses the special duco colour and wheels because she believes they will make her car unique. An hour later she leaves the dealership and within ten minutes she sees five cars exactly like hers! Why? Are there instantly more cars like hers on the road? Nope. The cars were always there but her awareness (of them) has changed. All of a sudden a switch has flicked and she’s now seeing what she didn’t before.
So too it is with ‘reading’ people. When we go into familiar situations and environments with a totally different perspective, it’s amazing what we discover. You want to know what people really think? Pay attention.
Warning: Don’t let your low self-esteem or propensity to find offence get in the way of the value in this message. Knowing how others see you or what they think of you should not come from a place of fear, insecurity or seeking approval but, rather, from a desire to create better connection, understanding and results in your world.
And remember, I love you, even with your flaws.
As always, love to hear your thoughts – even you long-time-lurking-non-commenting types!
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