There is a lot of talk around biases in recent years, which is a good thing. Biases impact our view of a person before we know them based on a stereotype or a story we’ve told ourselves about ‘people like them.’ Biases hurt not only the person who is being stereotyped but also the greater team, organization, community, or group of any kind. When we use a bias to make a decision we are limiting our ability to learn something new and include all of the voices. They aren’t something the recipient has any control over though.
You might have little control over the bias that someone has when they see you but you can control your reputation. Your reputation is built through your actions distilled down to its most basic form. For example, if you’re the person who leans back in meetings arms folded looking at the speaker but rarely adding your thoughts or asking questions, you’re likely seen as the disinterested, more important things to do, type of person. If you consistently mingle through the group checking in with everyone, making lots of connections, and asking lots of questions to get to know people better you’re likely the social butterfly. Those are really basic examples of course, typically our personal reputation is a bit more complex because our interactions with others involves more than just one type of action. For example, one person might have the reputation of being lazy and doing the bare minimum based on a few interactions where he didn’t add much to the problem solving phase. On the other hand, someone could be seen as incredibly dependable and hard working based on adding value to the team throughout a personal challenge.
It can take very little time to develop a reputation, starting from the very first interaction and carrying forth even before you even meet others. Thus the phrase, your reputation proceeds you. People will actively tell others about your style or do’s and don’ts of working with you. They will also indirectly tell people by setting up groups or inviting people that fit a certain criteria of which you may not be included. For example, if you’re seen as extremely healthy and regimented by your friends or coworkers, they may not include you in the impromptu lunch date to the greasy diner. If someone is creating a team of immerging leaders and you have the reputation of being the wallflower, you may not get selected.
If you’re sitting here thinking, ‘oh great, what’s my reputation and what is it keeping me from?’ I’m here to tell you that that is a waste of energy. I mean, if you have reason to be concerned about a specific opportunity or you have reason to think your friends are leaving you off certain invites I have a recommendation but for the most part, it is a waste of time. I mean, you won’t hear me say often that reflection is a waste but in this instance your reputation could be caused by unintentional acts so let’s focus our reflection on what we want rather than what we don’t want. More to come on that but first, I said I had a recommendation for how to handle missed opportunities and invites, and I do. First, ask yourself if you really want the invite. If you have strong relationships but aren’t getting invited on the once a month outing that conflicts with your goals, is that really something to fight against? Likewise, if you were left off a professional opportunity that truly doesn’t align with your personality or strengths, was it really your opportunity in the first place? If you do feel at a loss (hey I like greasy cheese burgers and I want to break out of my shell, or, the reputation is just false) then ask someone you can trust to be clear with you and who knows the situation to weigh in. Ask them, what am I doing that is giving the impression of ______? Or, if you don’t even know what your reputation is yet ask, why do you think people assume I’m not a good fit for (don’t want to) _______?
The more interesting question than, what is my current reputation is, what do I want my reputation to be? What do you want people to take away from meeting/knowing/engaging with you? What do you want them to say about you when you’re not in the room? I think for most of us what we want people to say about us a reflection of us living out our values. When our reputation and values don’t feel congruent that is when you don’t like your reputation. I would use them interchangeably if you’re trying to answer the question. If you don’t know what you want your reputation to be, think of what your values are. For me, I want people to say,
- I can trust her to see me as a whole person.
- She is a stickler for strategy and priorities.
- She gets things done and I feel good before we start, while we’re working, and when we finish.
- She is self-aware and encourages honest feedback.
Understanding what you want your reputation to be and how you want to be perceived will automatically help you recognize when you’re being inconsistent with those statements. For example, if I know that I want people to say that I encourage honest feedback and I am at a cross roads of getting feedback I can see that how I respond can either support or erode that statement. Recognizing opportunities to act in support of how you want to be seen is only 1/3 of the equation though. You also need to choose to follow what aligns with how you want to be seen. It’s not enough to know I’m at the cross roads; I need to make that person feel comfortable providing feedback. I need to use words that show I’m going to consider and potentially act on the feedback they’re giving. In many cases I need to actually ask for feedback directly. OK so that is 2 of the 3 pieces to influencing your reputation. The final piece of the pie, talking about it. I know that part is often the most uncomfortable but it’s necessary. People can sometimes misinterpret the motives behind your actions so you need to link them with your words. Let’s use another example of mine, seeing people as the whole person. If someone comes to me and asks, ‘Is it ok if I quit an hour early today to take my dog to the park? It’s been a long week and we both need some park time.’ I could just approve and my action would be congruent with the reputation I’m cultivating but they may feel the need to justify or think I’m being passive aggressive about it. So instead I say, ‘Of course! It has been a long week and I’m glad you and Duke can take a minute to unwind from it.’
To bring it back to the beginning, bias plays into the reputation. I am not blind to the fact that for some of us one interaction that fits the stereotype or the story the person has already told themselves in their head will serve to confirm the bias. It then can be so hard to change it. Others will have greater influences over their reputation. Whether you have great influence in this area or limited, you have influence and being intentional about the reputation you want and how you’re building, influencing, or cultivating it for yourself will set you apart and ahead of those who don’t.