How others see you

Does how you see yourself match how others see you?

How do you think others see you? A couple of the things we hear a lot from our clients is:

  • They think folks see them the way they see themselves and wonder why things don’t always go the way they thought they should.

  • They recognize folks don’t see them the way they see themselves and they don’t know what to do about it.

We have some suggestions to lessen the gap between how you see yourself and how others see you to strengthen relationships.

The biggest challenge is that other people can see our actions, observe our behaviours and body language and also hear our voice and tone – all of which helps them understand us – but they can’t see or hear our motivators. They can’t hear that little voice in your head!  

They haven’t been with you in the moments, days, weeks and even years leading up to this moment. And, unfortunately, that little voice and those moments are often driving what you’re doing and consequently explain what you’re doing or saying. Those things are the “why” behind your actions and so while your actions, behaviours, words, and tone make complete sense to you, they might not make sense to others or might be wholly misinterpreted.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize those motivators in the moment for ourselves, let alone for other people to understand what’s driving us! Learning to recognize these motivators and adapt to them is mindfulness (and we’ve talked about mindful leadership before).

The problem is, other people will subconsciously fill in the blanks when they don’t know your motivators – when they can’t hear the little voice in your head or when they don’t know the details of what has led to this moment in time. They might try to fill in the blanks by reading your body language and facial expressions – or maybe they’ll just make assumptions based on their own experiences and how they see the world.

First Impressions and Other Factors

You’ve probably heard how important first impressions are and that, “you can never make a second first impression.” While first impressions matter, there are other factors at play that have an impact on how others see you.

In her book, No One Understands You and What to Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson suggests there are two phases to how we are perceived by others – and Phase One is that all important first impression. Phase One of perception is entirely automatic, very rapid and almost subconscious. Phase Two is when there is more effort to understand the other person and when they’ll ask themselves (consciously, or not) whether their earlier impressions were accurate.

The big problem is that some folks won’t give you a Phase Two because it takes effort. During Phase Two folks might consider the situation, the surroundings and the context – but even then, they still can’t hear that little voice in your head and may not know much more about what brought you to this action or these words.

Adding to the problem is something called a confirmation bias, which is exceptionally common in people (yes, in you and me, too). The confirmation bias is what lets us pick out things that confirm we are right and ignore things that point out we might be wrong.

For example, if you’re in favour of a merger with another company, you will likely have an easy time finding all sorts of things that prove your point – the overhead will be lower, we’ll have access to their technology, etcetera, etcetera. If you’re opposed to the merger, you’ll likely pick up on the data about how badly efficiency and employee engagement suffer for a long time after a merger. What you’re picking up on reaffirms your initial view  – hence, confirmation bias.

So, when someone has a bad (or good) first impression of you, they’ll tend to pick out things they see that reaffirm that in Phase Two (if they even try to get to Phase Two).

Another form of the confirmation bias is the halo effect – where we see one good quality in someone and think it translates into other good qualities. This is why, in part, physically attractive people succeed – we think they’re warm, honest and intelligent even if we know little about them.

The inverse halo effect happens, too. When we pick up on one negative characteristic in that first impression, it can make a person seem less attractive, less intelligent and less helpful – and that negative effect tends to be even stronger than the halo effect.

In all of our interactions with others, it’s helpful to understand how we gather and filter information, add meanings and make assumptions. Read about the Ladder of Assumptions and try our worksheet to see how your beliefs and background can have an impact on conversations and workplace relationships. This is always one of the most popular exercises in our leadership workshops.

The other thing working against us when we’re trying to figure out how others see us is something called the false consensus bias, which is another natural human tendency. With this bias, we tend to think others see the world the way we do and we tend to think we’re in the majority.

When you see fringe groups on the news saying, “the people want…” you can see the false consensus bias in action. You and I look at the fringe group and think they’re out in left-field, but they think they’re speaking for the people. Unfortunately, even if you’re not a fringe lunatic, you still operate with this bias.

Here’s where it gets really interesting – while we all at some time think we’re speaking for the majority, we also operate under the false uniqueness bias, which is where we tend to underestimate the proportion of peers who share our desirable attributes and behaviours and to overestimate the proportion who share our undesirable attributes. In other words, if we’re particularly good at math (desirable) then we tend to assume most people aren’t and if we’re prone to impatience with slow progress (undesirable), we tend to assume others are impatient with that, too.

Tools to Manage Perceptions

So what can you do about this?

Well, becoming aware of your own tendencies is a giant first step. Becoming aware of common biases and thinking about how you’ve been applying them (without realizing it) is also important. But even more so, starting to remind yourself that others are applying those same biases to you (without even realizing it) will help you figure out how others see you.

We also have a couple fantastic tools in our toolkit that can help you:

You could take a DiSC behaviour profile to understand yourself better. Our profiles help you not only get an incredibly helpful picture of yourself – and your motivators and stressors – but also show you how to begin to adapt to folks around you who are, undoubtedly, seeing you differently.  

We offer a version for the workplace in general; the DiSC Workplace Assessment helps build stronger teams by improving relationships among team members.

The DiSC Management Assessment is designed for folks in management and leadership roles. It helps you understand yourself and how to adapt to your boss and your staff. This one our clients use a LOT and report amazing success.

We also offer DiSC Sales Assessment, which is to help salespeople understand how they’re being seen by prospects and clients (and what to do about it).   

Another option is to ask some trusted folks in your life to share how you’re being perceived. Now, this requires a bit of nuance – you have to ask folks who know you well AND who will be completely honest with you.

You might try explaining what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to learn more about how others see you (so they understand you really want to know) and then ask something like, “if you didn’t know me better, what would you think of me?” Then, remain completely open to the response.

This may also be a great opportunity to work on how you’re perceived to respond to feedback (Aaacck — this may be a challenge!).  Be prepared to keep your expression neutral. Work hard on reminding yourself this is going to be helpful to you and this person is giving you a gift by being willing to be honest with you.

Another way to ask people about how they see you that is usually VERY effective is to do a 360 review. This is where your boss, your peers and your staff all answer some questions about you online or with one of our team members and then one of our coaches walks you through the results, helping you understand the results and, importantly, what you can do to improve. Give us a call if that sounds helpful.

If you’ve done an assessment, or just reviewed the situation yourself and figured out some areas where you might want to reset how people are seeing you, what else can you do about it?

Well, one particularly helpful thing is to be more explicit about what you’re thinking or feeling and to explain a bit to people. With our clients I often use the expression, “narrate the conversation.”  In other words, while meeting with someone or even talking over coffee, if you have the inkling you may be coming across wrong (because you’ve done a DiSC profile and you know your tendencies, or because you’ve heard about this from others, or because you’re becoming more in tune with yourself) you can pause the actual conversation about X, Y or Z and explain.  

For example, if you’re talking about a difficult situation at work and you realize you may be coming across wrong, you could pause for a moment and say, “I just realized I might be coming across as … [intense, angry, frustrated, aloof, overly concerned, etcetera, etcetera] because of … or because of …,” or, “I’m actually feeling frustrated right now but I know that often looks like I’m angry, and I just wanted to emphasize I’m not angry” etcetera.

If you’re worried someone has the wrong impression about you, your instinct may be to avoid working with them, but that is the exact opposite of what you should do. You see, if you avoid them, the only data they can use to figure you out is the misinterpreted data they already have. So, you should, actually, seek to work with them even more.  

PLUS, one thing that helps overcome a number of the biases I mentioned above, is for someone to see you being helpful to them, or even more so, helpful to other people. What better way to sincerely achieve that, than to work on a project together?

And finally, you may be asking yourself, “Yeah, but what if they’re right? What if I am [short-tempered, overly accommodating, skeptical, too generous, etcetera, etcetera]?” If that’s the case, congratulations! Seriously – you might have learned something about yourself and now you can do something about it.  

Just being aware of something allows you to figure out things you can do to compensate, if you wish. For example, if you’re overly impatient, you can catch yourself feeling impatient, remind yourself to smile, remind yourself to take a silent deep breath, remind yourself the other person likely isn’t trying to slow things down and take a moment to figure out what may be hindering them.

As well, the DiSC profile I mentioned above will give you all sorts of tips to help. It’s chock-full of specific tactics, tailored specifically to you, to adapt to folks around you.

Working with a coach has incredible value for the money in this situation because the coach tailors their work specifically to you. You don’t spend time in a course learning how to be X, Y, and Z when what you need to really focus on is Z.

Coach’s Questions

How do you think others might see you differently from how you see yourself? Have you ever asked others to share how they perceive you?

What can you do this week to identify the gap and change how you are perceived?

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