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Professional Reputation: Who Talks About You at Work When You’re Not There?

Unless you work in a cave, you know that people have a tendency to talk about you, not to you.

Often employees have no idea where they stand performance-wise, in their organization, because for the most part, people don’t tell them. This lack of information leaves employees in the dark, not knowing what to do more, better, or differently.

Professional Reputation

People we interact with peripherally, if at all, talk about us to the powers that be in our organizations. And we have no idea.  We often don’t know what is said about us, by whom, and to whom.

Professional Reputation

I learned this lesson several years ago, before starting Candid Culture.The most senior woman at the company where I was working, the President of a division, told my boss she’d like to mentor me. Doesn’t that sound nice?  The funny thing is, beyond saying hello to me in the hallway, I didn’t even think she knew who I was. We never worked together, and our paths rarely crossed.

During our first meeting, the first thing my new mentor said to me was, “I think you’re checked out. So get in or get out. But decide.” Holy _____!!!!  I was shocked. She was right, of course. I was already planning to quit and start a business.  But I didn’t know that it showed.

I’m not telling you this as a lesson about how to manage your professional reputation, even when you may be looking for your next opportunity. Not that that isn’t important. It is. It’s just not my point here. The reason I’m telling you is this:  My new mentor was the most senior woman at the company. She reported to the CEO. My boss was her peer. She told me she thought I was checked out. Do we think she kept that observation to herself. It’s doubtful. I’m SURE it came up in a leadership meeting with all of her peers –the C-Suite.

If you don’t know who whispers in your boss’s and his/her boss’s ear about you, find out. And the person to ask is your boss. S/he knows and will most likely tell you, if you ask.

Here are a few questions you can ask your boss to help manage your professional reputation:

  • What skills do I have that the organization values most?
  • What contributions have I made that the organization values most?
  • What mistakes have I made from which I need to recover?
  • Who in the organization should I have a good relationship with?
  • Who/what departments should I work closely with?
  • Who impacts my reputation and the opportunities I have?

Yes, you can ask these questions. No, you won’t die. Yes, your boss will answer them. No s/he won’t be annoyed. I assure you, your boss has had few if any employees who asked him/her these questions.  It will be a refreshing change.

Just remember, the right answer to feedback is “thank you,” regardless of what you think in your head. The easier it is to give you feedback, the more  you’ll get.

Read more about how to manage your professional reputation and get more feedback in my new book.


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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4 Responses to “Professional Reputation: Who Talks About You at Work When You’re Not There?”

  1. Kirk Cocran says:

    Good advice. Hope all is well.

  2. Joe says:

    You make a great point re: the “lesson.” All the more reason to be bold and ask those questions directly to one’s “boss.” This shows the boss that an individual is mature enough to be ready to hear something that may not exactly be considered “great” news and they may be more willing to work on those less than stellar area(s). This is a real gut check and I’ll bet the reason most people do not ask is because they may not be able to accept the “feedback.” So, THANK YOU!

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