Who are you in your office? How well do you treat and work with your colleagues? If you took some time to really assess yourself, what might you discover?
Coming up with answers to these questions might be difficult. But here’s something even tougher to consider: If your coworkers were asked to describe you, what would they say? What would the common words and themes be? How different would their answers be from yours?
This isn’t hypothetical. It’s an exercise I put myself through — one I recommend to everyone, and write about in my book, Bring Your Best Self to Work.
There’s a lot of talk these days about authenticity in the workplace. A column in the Economic Times called it “more important than ever.” Some argue authenticity can “make you more engaged, a stronger leader, and more fulfilled.” A corporate psychologist explained that her authenticity enhances her effectiveness.
But how do you know whether you’re being authentic? What if there’s a big space between the person you think you are at work and the person you actually are?
You can’t simply figure this out on your own. It requires radical honesty from yourself and those around you — and a willingness to hear some uncomfortable truths. It means setting aside your ego. But it’s more than worth it.
That’s why I encourage people to go ahead and ask their colleagues these questions. Try to get others to open up about how you’re perceived at work. To some people, that seems like blasphemy! But it shouldn’t.
Of course, you don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. So, for starters, reserve this question for one-on-one conversations.
I ask this of my team, peers and leaders. You might wonder how I can know I’m getting honest answers from people who report to me. It’s a matter of creating a safe space. Also, when one of my employees gives me constructive feedback, I thank them and even praise them for it later on — letting other employees know that I took the criticism, appreciated it, and learned from it.
Often, the answers don’t call for a major shift in how I handle work, but they help me become more cognizant of how my actions come across to other people. For example, I sometimes get the dreaded “dramatic” description. But I don’t reject it and dramatically insist, “I’m not dramatic!” Instead, I own it. Sure I’m dramatic — outside of my career in sales, I’m an opera singer! I studied drama all through school. So, hey, I should be great at it.
But the key is to use it for good, in a way that builds success in business and stronger relationships at work. So I probe for more: Why am I being dramatic? In what situations have I reacted that way? How did it impact my work and those around me?
If it helps, you can start with something easier, such as: Do people enjoy working with me? How happy is my team? The answers to these questions might help instill you with the confidence to wade into deeper waters. So you might follow up with: What would you say is my strongest attribute? When people have a gripe about me, what is the most common word they use to describe me or the situation?
When you hear the answers, it’s easy to become defensive. I know I have at times. But if you listen, consider and incorporate this feedback, the result can be powerful growth.
I’ve found that I can be empowered by hard truths. They help me be more thoughtful about my choices in the workplace.
Since I’ve made a habit of doing this, I’ve seen my professional relationships bloom. Some of my best friends, to this day, are former coworkers. People I work with feel like they know the real me. They trust me, and that makes the quality of our work together much better.
People gravitate toward other people they perceive to be authentic. And the more authentic you are, the more you’ll be comfortable “owning” your space. We should feel confident in who we are so that we can be our best selves at work — our own unique, sometimes weird, wonderful selves, quirks and all.
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