Too many of us are operating under the illusion that our coworkers see us as we see ourselves. “We’re open books,” we tell ourselves. “Ask us anything.” Psychologists call this the transparency illusion, or the tendency to overestimate that our intentions match our realities. And this illusion only gets stronger as we climb up the corporate ladder and our power over other people’s careers and reputations makes it harder for people to openly criticize us.
But it’s important to find our how people really think about us.
If we live in this la-la land for too long, we may get blindsided by negative feedback. He thinks I’m competing for his job? But I thought we were great teammates. She thinks I don’t listen to her ideas? I was all ears!
The only way to stop these surprises is to test our assumptions about ourselves and gather feedback about our work and behavior. And that means not waiting for your scheduled feedback one-on-ones — and getting the courage to ask for real feedback from multiple people who know you professionally.
To find out how co-workers really think about you, you need to ask
Leadership coach Kristi Hedges, author of “The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others,” outlined how to do this in Harvard Business Review. She recommends selecting five people from all walks of life in your career —from your current co-workers and supervisors to your past peers and mentors — and asking them for a face-to face meeting.
This can be an uncomfortable request for some individuals, particularly if they report to you, so give the participant a heads up of exactly how this meeting is going to go. “Be clear that you’ll keep whatever the person tells you confidential, which will encourage honesty, and that you’ll be collecting feedback from several people to find themes, which lessens the burden for any one individual,” Hedges writes.
Asking people who know different sides of you at work is critical to helping you see the full picture of yourself. And you need to hold these talks in person whenever possible. Although it may be tempting to email or text requests for feedback, tone can easily get lost in written workplace communication.
What to ask
Once you meet up with your colleague, here are the two questions Hedges said that you need to ask them:
- What’s the general perception of me?
- What could I do differently that would have the greatest impact on my success?
These are broad questions that may need specific follow-up questions if you are not getting the feedback you need to hear. If your co-worker tells you that peers think you can be rude, ask “Can you give me an example of that?” If your boss says you’re doing a good job, ask her for specific instances of your success so you know what you’re doing particularly well and what you need to improve.
Honest feedback is a gift
It’s important to recognize that when you receive honest feedback, it’s a gift, regardless of how painful it may sound at the time. Hold back from showing your gut reaction if the feedback stings. Don’t interrupt them with your version of the story. Listening to your colleague means taking notes so you can spot patterns and themes. If you lack clarity, ask for it, but don’t debate your colleague’s story. The Muse recommends repeating back what you think your feedback partner is saying with statements like, “I hear you saying that you want me to provide more detailed weekly reports, is that right?” That way, you know that you and your conversation partner are on the same page.
Don’t forget to say thanks
Above all, remember to thank your colleagues and co-workers for taking the time out of their day to help you with your career.
It may not feel like a gift when you hear it, but knowing how other see you at work is necessary information you need to succeed.
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