"How do you know what your reputation is?" It is a great question, but a tough one.
Unless you overhear people speaking about you or you specifically ask them, you are not likely to know what they really think of you or your work. Here's how I keep tabs on my own "reputation ratings."
If someone criticizes you, listen carefully. Chances are, the person who said it isn't the only one who thinks it. Know, then, that in certain circles you have a reputation for being difficult, a slacker or a micromanager, and if you don't like those labels associated with a brand called [insert your name here], then avoid behaviors that can lead people to believe them. The fact is if you have enemies and you can stomach it, listen to what they say about you.
Listen to every single word of your performance evaluation. What you hear and read in your review is what your boss says about you. Correct problem areas and repeat behaviors that receive praise. Uh. Duh.
Ask a trusted friend. But realize that the way she sees you is most likely not representative of your general reputation; your friend will be partial, and quite possibly, not entirely honest.
Get a reliable spy. The boss's secretary, someone in HR, people in the PR department or an exec in the company who is NOT your boss are all in a good position to tell you what others are saying about you. Don't worry, you don't have to ask; they'll tell you during the course of a normal conversation. It's a good idea to be very nice to all of these folks, because they are also all in a position to wreak havoc on your reputation if you rub them the wrong way.
Reputation Builders: What You Want In Your Wallet
I realize that people would form an impression of me in all of three seconds and repeat them to the universe, I decided to create a Gold Card list that would keep me highly conscious of building a solid reputation based on a number of positive qualities I want people to be able to say about me.
Ultimately, only you know who you are and the image that you want portrayed, but here are some of the items from my Gold Card lists that I have found are the most powerful, efficient builders of kick ass Platinum Professional Reputation Ratings. And, honey, whoever builds up enough credit to secure a Platinum Reputation -- Diane Sawyer and Michelle Obama come to mind -- gets career carte blanche.
Consistent. Dependable consistency of mood, dress, performance and respect for colleagues makes others comfortable and builds great reputations. Dress well and create a look that fits in with your corporate culture; don't be changing your exterior image every 48 seconds -- trust me, they won't think you "spontaneous" but rather moody, flakey and indecisive. Consistently do solid work. Be consistent in your respect for everybody. Don't flatter your boss and turn around and berate your colleagues, lest you get a reputation for being a big fat ass-kisser. The key to consistency is knowing what your priorities are and sticking to them.
Stay In Control. Get a grip on yourself. Never seem "overwhelmed" by the amount of things you have to do. Just do them. Don't broadcast your thoughts that maybe you can't get something done -- which is a common way some girls "bond" with each other by commiserating. Have energy, but retain control of it. No manic giggling or public hysteria, please.
Organized. Present yourself as an organized human being. Keep your desk well organized, but never empty. Organize your thoughts before you speak and ramble not. Show yourself to have an organized home life by seldom flying in the door late and leaving at a regular time -- whatever time that is in your particular culture -- on most nights. Prepare, prepare, prepare and, more importantly, look prepared. Show up early for those meetings, missy.
Polite. Mind your manners, Mamma. This is an easy credit. Say please, say thanks, look people in the eye and really listen to what they are saying to you. Provide thoughtful commentary that demonstrates that you were, in fact, listening. Don't babble about things that are clearly not interesting to your audience. Don't repeat nasty gossip. Send thank you notes, etc. If you don't know what's appropriate in the land of civilized and polite behavior -- and hey, lots of people don't -- pick up the latest edition of Emily Post or check out sites like www.etiquettehell.com (for fun and instructive victim of bad manners stories).
Unflappable. When things don't go your way, take a step back; consider why certain decisions might have been made and accept them without reacting all over the place. Don't be a pushover, though; pick your battles.
Reliable. Always do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it.
Flexible. Remain cheerful in the face of change, whether it's a change in direction, a change in responsibility, a change in plans -- even if it means the project you just finished is now irrelevant. Bitch about it all you want in the privacy of your bathroom mirror, but in public, be the first on line to pitch in and help with the transition.
Generous. Take credit and share credit: "I worked very hard on that report, but I couldn't have done it without my amazing staff and the solid direction of my supervisor." Ok. I know it sounds dorky. Do it anyway.
Supportive. Align your goals with those of your boss. Tell people what you learned from your boss, and lead them to believe you have a great relationship with her -- even if there's some tension there.
Fun. Know how to laugh and tell a joke. I saved myself a world of trouble and made more useful allies by knowing how and when to laugh at myself and make light of a tough situation with a well-placed joke. If you find yourself acting graveside grim, take a second to think of a funny spin on the same situation that is currently troubling you.
Intriguing. Demonstrate yourself to be a person with a life that you value and protect. Share only the most positive and interesting highlights -- no epic tales, please. If you are talking with someone about your personal life, know that in most cases, his attention span will be about as long as one commercial break during Monday Night Football.
Solution-oriented. Don't freak if you make mistakes or encounter unforeseen obstacles. Solve the problem as efficiently as possible; look forward not back.
Graceful. Accept criticism -- whether you feel it is deserved or not, say: "Really? Wow. I had no idea. I wonder what I'm doing that gave that impression, it was certainly not my intent." Ask the critiquer for her advice for a specific to-do to remedy the situation. Immediately make adjustments to change that person's perception and check back in with her later: "Hey Doreen, remember that discussion? Well, I'm so grateful you brought that to my attention. Here's what I've done to correct the problem."
Diplomatic. Defer to and respect the expertise of others by asking for help and requesting advice, which shows you don't think you are a know-it-all. Be wide open to the idea that you can learn something from someone else.
In the Groove. Respond to the individual styles of each coworker and higher-up, and know how to adapt yourself according to the cues presented by your audience. So if your boss seems to value precision and you notice that he nitpicks documents that have careless mistakes in them, even if all the information is accurate, take the time to review it and make it perfect. Skip the slipshod for that guy. WARNING: Don't expect other people to change their priorities to match yours.
Follow Up. Follow-up quickly: return phone calls, answer emails and deliver requested information, efficiently -- and make it seem effortless. J was known for her fast turnaround and kept up the pace to hold onto her Speedy Gonzalez Reputation. It's a great reputation, so don't be telling everyone and their grandmother about your horrific workload or that you were just too busy to get back to them. Use your 40% and return that call!!
Powerful. Get known for knowing something. Build up knowledge areas that will get people saying: "Oh, you want to know about how to write pitch letters? Ask Barbara, she's a whiz." It doesn't even have to be a work topic. The trick to this one is to allow people to "discover" your power by dropping a few clues and samples, rather than telling colleagues everything about yourself at once.
Security. Become sensitive to coworker's threat threshold by observing what they say bugs them about other coworkers and avoid making the same mistakes with that person. Strive to neither threaten people by showing them up or putting them down. Don't make excessive apologies or excuses for deficiencies you perceive in yourself.
Whatever you do, be aware of overcompensating in yourself -- trying too hard to prove you are smart, prove you are dedicated, prove you are the hardest most loyal worker since Lassie could have people labeling you as insecure and/or trying to make everyone else look bad. Check yourself: If you feel you have something to prove, chances are you are trying way too hard. Lighten up, mamma. It's just a job.
Up next, "Looks Can Kill and How to fix that Reputation if It's off the cliff!"