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Know Your Reputation and Advance Your Career

Clear Waters Magazine

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

Most 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.

If today was the day of your performance appraisal and I asked how your boss and whoever else provides input on your review would rate you, you probably don’t know.  This lack of knowledge prevents you from managing your career.

Not knowing someone’s opinion doesn’t mean you’re not subject to it. Akin to getting a speeding ticket when you didn’t know you were speeding. The cop doesn’t care. He adds four points to your driving record, despite that you didn’t know the speed limit.

What’s even more troubling is that employees often don’t know all the people who impact their careers. People we interact with even peripherally often talk about us to the decision makers in our organizations. And we have no idea.  We often don’t know what is said about us, by whom, and to whom. This lack of direct feedback gives employees no opportunity to manage their careers and reputations.

You may work for a manager who is generous and forthright with feedback. You may not. It doesn’t matter. There are people in your life who will tell you the truth (as they see it), if you ask.

I recommend assembling a core group of people who you count on to tell you the truth. These are the people who know you well and have your back. They can be friends, family members, and current or past coworkers, customers, or managers.

You might wonder, “What can my mom or friends from high school or college tell me about how I behave at work?” The answer –a lot.

We don’t become different people when we arrive at work. We are who we are. If you’re often late, cancel on commitments, or wear clothing that’s not your friend, you do those things at home and at work.  Likewise, if you have great attention to detail, never break commitments, and always look great (in public), you friends and family know.

Identify a few people, personal and/ or professional, who care about you and will tell you the truth. Tell these folks you want to eliminate your blind spots. Ask them for specific feedback and promise that no matter what they say and how hard it is to hear, you will say “thank you.” Then be sure to manage yourself.  It’s normal to become defensive when we get feedback. But every time we become defensive, we train people it’s not safe to tell us the truth. If you want people to be candid with you, more than once, make it easy to tell you the truth.

Here are a few questions you can ask your friends, family, and coworkers:

  • What’s the first impression I make?
  • If my coworkers were asked to talk about me, when I wasn’t present, what do you think they’d say?
  • What do you think I’m like to work with?
  • How have I exceeded your expectations in the past?
  • How have I disappointed you in the past?

Here are a few questions you can ask your manager:

  • 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 he won’t be annoyed. I assure you, your boss has had few if any employees who asked him 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.

You may be thinking that what I’m suggesting is unrealistic. People won’t be honest. And you can’t take it.

The people who really care about you will be honest, and you can take it. You’ll be fine. In fact you’ll be better off than before you had the conversations. You might hear things that pleasantly surprise you. And the things you don’t like? Just because no one talked

about them before you asked doesn’t mean those behaviors didn’t impact you. Now you can do something about them.

We don’t always know who talks about us and to whom. And as a result, we don’t always know all the people who impact our careers.  If you don’t know who whispers in your boss’s and his boss’s ear about you, find out. Get out of the dark and into control.

Shari Harley is the author of the book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships That Really Work and leads Candid Culture, a training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to tell the truth at work. Learn more about Candid Culture’s training programs, watch videos, and read an excerpt from Shari’s new book at

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