Changing a damaged reputation is challenging. My number one piece of advice: Be very overt about the changes you’re making.
Here are eight steps to discover and repair your professional reputation:
Step one to repair your professional reputation: Make a list of people who observe your performance and who can impact your career. If you’re not sure who these people are, ask your boss and peers. They know.
Step two to repair your professional reputation: Ask for specific, candid feedback at least twice a year, and tell people why you’re asking for the information.
Asking, “How am I doing?” is not specific. Instead, say something like, “I want to learn more about my reputation in the office and want to eliminate my blind spots. I’d be grateful for any input you can provide on my reputation and what people say about me when I’m not there.” Then schedule a specific time in the near future to discuss the feedback, so you don’t catch people off guard. You’ll get better feedback when people have had a chance to observe your behavior and think about what they’d like to say.
Step three to repair your professional reputation: Listen to the feedback and no matter how hard the feedback is to hear, say, “Thank you for telling me that.” Don’t defend yourself. Instead, leave the conversation, think about what the person has said, and then go back to him a few days later with questions, if you need to.
Step four to repair your professional reputation: If the feedback you receive doesn’t feel accurate, tell others who you trust about the feedback and ask them to provide input.
Step five to repair your professional reputation: Sit with the feedback before taking action. Let yourself be emotional. You might feel angry, sad, or betrayed. All of those are normal responses to feedback.
Step six to repair your professional reputation: Take action. Make changes that feedback providers suggested.
Step seven to repair your professional reputation: Tell people who provided input and who are impacted by your behavior about the changes you’ve made. You could say, “I recently received feedback that I’m not careful enough and that my work often has errors. I’m really working on this. Will you pay attention to the accuracy of what you receive from me and let me know if you see changes? I’d really appreciate your input.”
Step seven is very important and something people rarely do. Don’t assume people will notice the changes you’ve made. Instead, assume they won’t. Without being told what to look for, the decisions people have already made about you will supersede changes you’ve made. It takes a lot of effort to see people differently. Validating what we already know and think about someone is much easier and more likely than noticing changes.
Step eight to repair your professional reputation: Continue to ask for feedback. Receiving feedback is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. Don’t ask for feedback weekly, rather check in once a quarter, tell people the changes you’ve made, and ask for specific input.
You can change your reputation if you want to. Doing so will require courage, openness, and effort on your part. Work on one or two things at a time, not ten. And then reward yourself for the changes you’ve made with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s because too often we’re hard on ourselves and forget to celebrate wins.