In business, or life, what you do does not matter. Instead, others’ perceptions of you matter. How people perceive you is what will make or break your career. Perception is reality.
Example 1 – Not being a hard worker
You work the most hours of anyone at your level within your company. You leave the office at 5 pm but you stay up working until 2 am every night.
Your boss or co-workers only see what you do until you leave in the evening. They don’t know the sacrifices you make once you leave the office. Therefore, you’re perceived as one who does not work much or hard. Their perception is reality.
Example 2 – Not being punctual
Your office has a policy that you can come and go as you please as long as you get your work done timely. You are not a morning person so you don’t start your day until about 9:30 each morning. Your co-workers who leave at 5 each evening don’t know that you stay until 8. Instead, they think you’re working two fewer hours than they are. They think you just can’t make it to work on time. Their perception is reality.
Example 3 – Taking advantage of the expense reimbursement policy
Part of your job responsibility is to bring in business so you frequently take clients and prospects to lunch. Your co-workers without sales responsibilities think you are taking advantage of the company by getting your lunches paid for by the company. Their perception is reality.
Example 4 – Not wanting to be promoted
Your goal in your career is to rise as high within your company as possible. You even want to be CEO one day. But, you have never told anyone of your aspirations to climb the corporate ladder.
You keep to yourself and just get your work done. You think your hard work will get noticed and the promotions will come. Instead, you’re perceived as not being social and just wanting to do the “grunt” work. Perception is reality.
There are so many more examples of how you can be perceived based on your actions or words. Sure, it’s not fair that you’re perceived like this. Everyone should know better. Unfortunately, that’s how it is because perception is reality.
What can you do to change those misperceptions? The most important thing you can do is to tell people of your intentions. Let’s look at each example above:
Example 1 – You are a hard worker
Ask your boss if he knows that you work from home each night? If it surprises him, explain to him why you do it. Maybe you have young kids at home you want to spend time with each evening so you leave at 5 and then start working again when they go to bed. If you work for a good boss, he will understand and encourage you to continue to do so.
But what about your co-workers who you think gripe about you behind your back? I’d ask your boss first about whether he knows if anyone has an issue with your work schedule. Also, ask how your accomplishments compare with your peers. If you are outperforming them because of the extra hours you work, don’t worry about what they think. Continue plugging away.
Example 2 – You are punctual
I’ve witnessed this situation in the past. One of my peers worked by this schedule and people did gripe about it. But, I knew how much he actually worked and told people that he stayed late every night. My co-worker, on several occasions, also came into the office well before normal starting time. People didn’t see that either.
The bottom line is to know how your boss perceives you. Most bosses are not naive. They understand what happens in the office and how much people work. If your boss is okay with it, it’s okay to keep that schedule.
Example 3 – Make the sale
Quality sales matter. If you can make a sale, your boss will not mind you taking people to lunch every day. However, if the company doesn’t realize any financial benefit from the expenses you incur, you will be asked to change. Building relationships with clients and prospects will keep the company in business.
Example 4 – Let it be known
I was guilty of this in the past. I really wanted to be promoted (and still do) but didn’t ever talk to my boss about it. I worked hard. I worked a lot. I worked weekends. But, the promotions didn’t come any faster than anyone else. (Read about the three steps to be promoted.)
Then, I talked to my boss about it. He told me what I needed to do to be promoted. You have to be forthright about wanting to be promoted. If you need additional challenges, speak up.
I remember after my first year on the job I got pretty bored working on the same type of engagement every day. It just didn’t challenge me anymore. So, I told my boss. Of course, I still had to work on some of those engagements but I was also given more challenging tasks.
You shouldn’t worry about what others think about you, unless they could have an impact on your career. You should be focused on how you are perceived by your boss. Your boss’ perceptions are what matter for your career because his/her perception is reality. Have open communication. Ask what you need to do and then do it.
Share your experiences in the comments below about how perceptions have played a role in your career.