People that can influence our opportunities and success can have perceptions of us that are not accurate. These assumptions are often the result of biases or snap judgments that can negatively impact our personal brand. While we cannot completely control what others think of us, we can pick up on these clues and strategically “sell” to change perception. Identify critical stakeholders that are influential for you to reach your full potential and understand their point of view. Condition how they think through strategic and subtle messaging that engages people to be advocates for your success.
While we generally should not spend energy and time concerning ourselves with what other people think of us, the reality is in some situations it’s in our best interest to do so. These are scenarios when those people control our compensation or opportunities to advance in our careers. It’s important you identify these stakeholders and understand how they perceive you. Their mental model may not be accurate or one you agree with, but understanding how they see you is critical.
So how do you determine how they see you? I recommend you ask them directly about your strengths and gaps that may be holding you back. Great managers will share this with you because they want to see you excel in their team. Others avoid conflict and often gloss over this topic and will be vague with their feedback. Understanding how stakeholders view you is especially important when promotions are at stake.
Your professional colleagues can give you insight into how they perceive you or other people they know. One day I remember having a Microsoft colleague tell me that someone in an influential position (my boss) did not feel I was technical enough to be successful in the role I held and the career path I was pursuing. I thought about it from this person’s perspective on what they saw or did not see. Perhaps they were only seeing a small glimpse of who I was. I did not feel this was an accurate perception so I thought about what I could do to easily “sell” and influence their mental model of who I was.
This insight shaped my personal development plan about technical skills I could deepen as well as the “marketing” that would be required to change how a few people think – specifically my boss. For you, this could be shedding a previous successful identity or changing perception given a snap judgment or bias someone may have given the situation. I have seen it happen throughout my career and how these voices show up during compensation reviews. These perceptions are generally not black and white. There may be some truth to how people see you, but this perception may be accentuated due to a bias. Listening to feedback to shape your personal development plans is essential to our growth. This strategy is focused on the “selling” you can do to change inaccurate perceptions.
Once you become aware of perceptions from influential people that may work against you, I recommend you think about how they may hold this view of you. There may also be a perception that you pick up from a broader set of stakeholders (e.g. hiring managers) that requires a strategy to neutralize. The term I use, “selling”, describes techniques you can use to condition how people think about your personal brand and change it. In my personal example, I identified multiple ways I could reinforce and market my technical acumen. I began to host “brown bag” learning sessions in my organization where I would present what I had learned through recent projects or my graduate studies in data science. I wrote thought leadership content that I would share internally and externally. During my career at Microsoft, I became involved in the Digital Analytics Association for professional growth and to expand my network. One year I was nominated as the President of the Seattle Chapter and was instrumental in hosting a large yearly conference. In addition to my contributions, this was a selling opportunity to reinforce my brand as a leader and technical professional. At the end of the event one year, I remember multiple colleagues coming up to me saying they never knew I was involved in this area. I purposely picked this volunteer opportunity to build my experience and also how it would influence perceptions of my personal brand.
Understand, that there is always an opportunity each day to sell yourself and your ideas. Embrace the idea that “selling” is a positive spirit and not this transactional thing that is meant to manipulate people. The reality is that conditioning and influencing the mental models of how we want other people to see is no different from how products are marketed. Influence is just how the world works. You may have an impressive skill set and ideas, but if you don’t take charge and communicate your brand then you are giving that power to other people to interpret for you. Keep your antennas up to see and listen to how people may have a perception of you that you want to change. A carefully planned set of small marketing activities over a period of time can condition how people see you. Things such as your LinkedIn profile, the content you write and share, and how you show up all have a way of influencing the perceptions that others have of you.
1 – Listen and Watch for Perceptions.
Watch the facial expressions of people when you speak.
Seek feedback to understand how powerful people perceive you.
Be unemotional to the feedback or perception as it’s their mental model, not yours.
Identify perceptions that may be holding you back or use against you.
2 – Target Your Influential Audience.
Identify the influential people or groups that you are seeking to condition.
Clarify how you changing the way they think: “from” this “to” that.
3 – Sell Your Desired Identity.
Identify aspects of your past or current identity that no longer serve you.
Reflect on ways you may be reinforcing an identity you are seeking to change.
Sell the influential audience with appearances and thought leadership pieces in small doses over a period of time.
Accentuate your online presence to shape perception to your advantage.
Experiment With This
- Ask colleagues you trust what perceptions may exist about your reputation or brand. I have found this to be a valuable way to get insight into perceptions you are not aware of.
- Read your current LinkedIn “about” summary and accomplishments for your current and previous jobs. How would you upgrade these to ensure they convey the brand you want or change perception?
- Ask your direct manager to describe your strengths, perceptions, and weaknesses that are holding you back from reaching the next level in your career. Think about how this feedback will shape your personal development plan, and the “selling” activities that you will execute to condition the market.
- Use long-form content to display thought leadership in a specific topic you are seeking to raise your visibility and credibility. Commit to a habit that will produce valuable content consistently over time.