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Career Success: Perception, Reality and the Hidden Disconnect

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How do your colleagues really feel about working with you? Psychological studies show that we tend to believe that others view us the same way we view ourselves. Unfortunately, that self-serving bias can lead to big problems on the journey toward career success.

Many people in the workplace are ostensibly doing everything "right" to move up the corporate ladder -- getting degrees or certifications, working overtime, meeting goals -- but their careers seem to be stuck. They are genuinely well intentioned and hard working, but their behaviors and attitudes send a different message to their co-workers. There's a clear disconnect. We judge ourselves based on our intentions, while others judge us based on our behaviors. More specifically, they make judgments based on their perceptions of our behavior. That's a critical distinction, because the way we are perceived determines whether or not we get the job, the promotion or the raise.

While I've worked with clients who suffer from a wide range of these perception disconnects, some seem to show up time and time again. You probably know people who match these descriptions:

• Intelligent and highly qualified but perceived by others to be condescending and elitist
• Decisive and candid but perceived by others to be abrupt and insensitive
• Extremely energetic and driven but perceived by others to be relentless and unrealistic
• Composed and steady but perceived by others to be robotic and indifferent
• Methodical and compliant but perceived by others to be inflexible and overly cautious
• Assertive and enthusiastic but perceived by others to be self-serving and inappropriate
• Spirited and passionate but perceived by others to be intense and overzealous
• Reliable and high performing but perceived by others to be one-dimensional and over-
functioning

Do any of those sound eerily familiar? Sometimes we see our attributes as valuable assets while our team members see liabilities. Our behaviors and attitudes could be subtly holding us back -- or inadvertently causing a full-fledged roadblock for our career advancement. It turns out that we all have trouble understanding how we're perceived in some areas of our interactions with others. The only way to identify and handle those perception disconnects is to ask for feedback from someone who has a different perspective and will be honest enough to tell us the truth. You're not alone if that concept leaves you feeling uncomfortable or even paralyzed with fear. But that's all the more reason to push forward and get answers. In many ways, your career success depends on it.

My intention for telling you about perception disconnects is not to spread doom and gloom. Just the opposite, in fact. Knowing these problems exist, we can begin to identify and correct them. After all, we have a serious incentive to take action once we understand the domino effect involved: how others perceive us affects our reputations, our influence, our leadership effectiveness, our team performance, and our success. It makes a huge difference.