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  Know Your Reputation

You're smart. You work hard. You went to a great school. You may have even gone to graduate school. And you have a good job. You want to be promoted, but you haven't been. You've asked your boss what it will take for you to take the next step and were told, "It's just not time yet. Keep doing what you're doing.” And you do. For one year, maybe two, maybe three. And three years later you haven't been moved to a different job, team, or project and you don’t know why.

There is a reason you are being held in your current job. There may be several reasons, but very few people will tell you.

It’s not that your boss doesn’t want you to succeed, but giving candid feedback makes most people uncomfortable. It’s easier not to say anything. And the things that are holding you back are hard for your boss and colleagues to articulate. They’re little things. They almost seem petty to even mention, but they’re preventing you from getting where you want to go.

The key to accelerating your career is to know your reputation.

My father has been telling me my whole life “you can’t control what people think, so don’t bother trying.” He’s not wrong. People are going to make their own opinions and judgments. But we choose what we put in front of people. We choose what they see, and thus what they judge.

The only way to find out what people think of how you come across is to ask them. And know that most people won’t tell you, even when you ask. But a few will. A few courageous souls, who want to make a difference for you will tell you how you’re seen. And when they do, make it easy for them. Make the experience go down like candy, so they’ll want to do it again.

The right response to negative feedback is, “Thank you.” Saying “thank you” doesn’t mean that they are right or that you agree. It means you heard them and appreciate the risk they took in telling you.

No one wants to make anyone feel badly. So they won’t tell you the things you do to damage your reputation and frustrate others, instead, they’ll tell other people.

I used to work for a woman who all too frequently used the phrase, “Feedback is a gift.” She usually said this either right before or after she verbally annihilated one of our team members. After verbally decimating one of us, she’d twitter, “Feedback is a gift!” And while her positive spin on the verbal butt kicking we had just gotten was annoying, she was right.

So few people will be honest with you, when someone takes off the kid gloves and just tells you like it is, it’s a gift. It’s the most valuable thing anyone in the workplace can do for you.

Without candid feedback you’ll sit in your current job year in and year out, wondering why your career isn’t going anywhere. And eventually you’ll become frustrated and leave your company, only to quickly become pigeonholed in your next job. The keys to being successful in business are the same everywhere, not just at your current company. And if you don’t master those things, your career will stagnate wherever you are.

If this feedback is so important, but hard to get, how do you find out how you’re seen? Find a few key people in your life who care about you. Don’t seek feedback from the person in the office who hates you, covets your job or has an ax to grind. Being straight is a risk; someone who cares about you is more likely to take that risk.

Approach friends, family members and colleagues who have observed you in different settings. Tell them that you are working on understanding how others’ perceive you and that you would be very grateful if you can take them to lunch and ask for some feedback. Promise that whatever their feedback is, you’ll say thank you.

A few questions to ask colleagues, friends, and family members:

  • What first impression do I create?
  • What am I like to work with? If they don’t work with you, ask what they think you would be like to work with.
  • What is my best skill?
  • What’s an area you think I need to develop?
  • What is a time I let you down?
  • If a group of my colleagues were sitting in a conference room and were asked to talk about me, what would they say?

When receiving feedback, ask questions for more information and for clarification. Ask for examples if the feedback isn’t specific. And regardless of how hard it is to hear, don’t defend yourself. Instead, ask permission to follow up later after you’ve had a chance to think about and digest the feedback.

Knowing what people think and are saying about you will give you the power to control what you put in front of others and take charge of your career.

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