Do You Really Know How People Perceive You?

Published: Aug 12, 2010

Do You Really Know How People Perceive You?

Do You Really Know How People Perceive You? By Mark Goulston

You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. And I hate to say this, but with everyone so uptight in companies, more people jump to conclusions quickly and usually will not easily change their minds afterwards. So... you don’t have the luxury of not knowing how you are coming across especially when you are making a very negative impression that you’re not aware of.

Believing you are one way while others perceive you differently can be very detrimental to relationships and to your career. The reason for that is that when what others see and hear doesn’t match what they feel, you create dissonance (the opposite of resonance) in them and they pull back and hesitate. Instead of “buying in” to what you’re saying, they “buy out.” Another way of saying it is: Dissonance = What are you going to do FOR me?/What are you going to do TO me?

Even if people don’t pull back, they may lose confidence in you – not to mention respect – because they may think that if you’re that clueless about something so obvious to them, you’re probably clueless about other things that could hurt your performance or effectiveness on the job.

From my professional experience, ten common misperceptions that cause dissonance are the following:

Believing You Are:  When Others Perceive You As:
Shrewd  Sly
Confident  Arrogant
Humorous  Inappropriate
Energetic  Hyper
A Person with Strong Opinions  Opinionated
Passionate  Impulsive
Strong  Rigid
Detail oriented  Nitpicking
Quiet  Passive or Indecisive
Sensitive  Needy

But here’s the challenge: how can you know how other people perceive you? The answer is simple but uncomfortable: Ask the experts—your own friends or relatives or co-workers. This isn’t fun, and you’ll need to have a thick skin. But the quickest way to pinpoint your issues with dissonance is to identify two or three honest (or better yet, blunt) people who know you well and whose judgment you trust, and ask them to describe your worst traits.

Typically, even blunt people will hesitate to do this. To get them talking, don’t say, “Do I have any characteristics that annoy or offend you?” because they’ll just say “No.” Instead, offer them a list and say, “I need you to mark, in 1-2-3 order, the top three ways I might rub people the wrong way.” Here are the traits you can list:

• Arrogant
• “Hyper”
• Needy
• Overly opinionated
• Impulsive
• Rigid
• Nitpicking
• Passive
• Indecisive
• Demanding
• Hostile
• Stuffy
• Oversensitive
• Sly
• Untrustworthy
• Melodramatic
• Rude
• Shy
• Pessimistic
• Abrupt
• Excessively perky
• Closed minded

Odds are, if you ask three people to do this, you’ll discover recurring themes. If two different people mark “abrupt,” for example, believe them—even if you’re sure you don’t act that way. After you discover how others see you, ask them how much they feel that negatively impacts how others view you and your success.

Make a commitment to stop behaving that way and ask them if you can check in with them informally from time to time to tell you whether they feel you have improved and to make suggestions for improving even more.

And by the way, you will be amazed at how much it improves your relationship when you invite people to tell you negative things they have been wanting to get off their chest for a long time, but had felt too awkward to do so until you gave them permission.

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the author of "Just Listen" Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone (AMACOM, 2010), Tribune syndicated career advice columnist, keynote speaker and executive coach.

For more information: Contact him at:

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