One of the challenges of being a high achiever is that you’re very likely to get pigeonholed at various times in your career. Maybe it’s happening to you now.
What often happens is you get typecast into playing a particular role and then it’s really hard to get other opportunities outside of it.
It all starts with something good. You do something really well, you get compliments for it, you become the go-to person for it, and soon you’re basking in the praise and positive reinforcement.
Then all of a sudden you realize, “Wow. I’m only perceived as being able to do this one thing. But now I want to do more things.”
What began as a “good thing” has become a bit of a trap. And this is incredibly frustrating if you want to keep learning growing and developing.
So, what do you do about it?
There are two key aspects you need to address when you’ve been pigeonholed. The first is the reality and the second is the perception.
The Reality of Why You’re Being Pigeonholed
First, take a reality check and look at how you may be contributing to your own pigeonholing. Take a good hard look and be honest with yourself.
The 4-Part Reality Check
1. Look at Your Capabilities
Are you really a one-trick pony? Do you have other capabilities? If you don’t then start investing in them. Take a course, volunteer for a new experience or do whatever it might be that you need to do.
2. Look at Your Confidence Level
Are you staying in your comfort zone? Do you have the confidence to speak up or to ask for other opportunities? If not, then start speaking up and start asking.
3. Look at Your Connections
Do you have the connections to get those other opportunities? To what extent can your network of connections help you succeed in those other opportunities once you get them?
If your connections (or lack of them) are the issue, then start building your network of relationships beyond your current role.
4. Look at Your Conduct
How are you behaving and conducting yourself on a day-to-day basis? Are you holding onto tasks rather than delegating them? Are you only talking about things related to your job at hand? Are you dressing in a way that makes it hard for people to envision you being in those next bigger, broader roles?
Start being conscious of what you might need to change.
How to Change Other People’s Perception of You
The second key aspect is to take a look at the perceptions other people have of you. To what extent are there some you want to change?
If you’re not sure of people’s perceptions, start by putting yourself in their shoes and envisioning how they might be seeing you. Then gather some data by asking them.
When it comes to addressing perceptions people have of you, there are three steps that can help shift the way you’re seen by others.
3 Steps To Change Perceptions of You
Step 1: Establish Your Desire
What is your desire in terms of how you want to be perceived?
This question is important because the answer forms a basis for deciding which actions you want to take. Then you can be directed and intentional about taking those actions that will most help others perceive you in a different, more appropriate way.
Step 2: Disrupt Current Perceptions
To help others change their perceptions, you need to disrupt the way they’re already perceiving you. The best way to do that is to show them the way you want to be seen.
You could apply the skills that you’re using in your current role in a slightly different arena. For example, if you’ve shown that you have great skills with covering clients, maybe you can also apply those great people skills to managing project teams.
Another option is to draw attention to the other skills you have as you’re using them. Make sure people see you in action.
You could also speak up and ask questions that are outside your immediate area to show your broader interests. And since managers aren’t mind readers, it’s useful to share your aspirations with your boss and other senior people.
Step 3: Eliminate Risk
Once others see you in a different, more appropriate light, it’s important to de-risk it for them to give you the opportunities you want outside of your current role. People tend to be risk-averse when it comes to change, and they may be risking their personal reputation to put you into a new role or project.
You might need to get training so that people can feel comfortable you have the skills to take on a new opportunity.
You can also think about how you talk about what you currently do. Just like you might do in your resume, you could talk about what you already do in a different way.
You could slant the way you talk about your experiences toward a particular business function that you’re interested in or in a way that highlights your leadership.
You also can get “social proof”, which means finding people that are not yet seeing you in a pigeonholed way and doing some projects with them. This way, they can then come back and vouch for you to your boss and your boss’s boss.
In my career, it was empowering for me to be able to get other colleagues to come back to my boss to say, “May did a great job of leading and managing the people on this cross-divisional team. Some of my people were on that team. She could definitely lead other people.”
Be Patient – Changing Perceptions Takes Time
If you’ve been pigeonholed, take heart because it means you started out by doing something right. Now it’s time to do the reality check, figure out how you want to change perceptions and then take action.
Remember to be patient because it took you some time to get into the pigeonhole and it’s going to take you some time to get out.