The topic of self perception arose at a dinner party with friends. The host asked each guest how they believed others in the room perceived them. The question gave most of us pause. A few asked for a second glass of wine. When I thought more about the question, I realized I had a general sense of myself but lacked clear insight about whether others really saw me the same way.
If you are anything like me, you realize that it’s not easy to understand how other people perceive us. We are often uncertain, confused, and even completely unaware of what we project to others. Such lack of awareness can cause challenges at work, home, and socially.
After the party, I looked further into why this happens. The topic of transparency illusion fits the bill. Transparency illusion is the belief that we all are open books, that what we intend is what people see. As the term illusion suggests, a wide gap between what people attempt to portray as self-image and how they are perceived defines the illusion. Additionally, individuals may be unaware that their facial expressions and body movements can betray their self-image further.
The solution is interesting but takes a little work. In her new book, The Power of Presence, Kristi Hedges outlines four steps in a powerful exercise to shine light on increasing an individual’s self-perception. These steps work equally well in one’s personal life as they do in the workplace.
Choose close friends or colleagues who see you regularly in your personal life or work. Select individuals who will tell it to you straight.
Be clear that you’ll keep confidential whatever the person tells you, which will encourage honesty, and that you’ll be collecting feedback from several people to find themes, which lessens the burden for any one individual. Make the request in person if you can. People are more likely to participate if they can see you.
Resist the temptation to explain yourself, defend your actions, or reveal disappointment. The quality of your feedback will only be as good as your ability to remain comfortable while receiving it. Ask for details or examples if you need them. End with a sincere thank you.
The transparency illusion is a common trap for people in all walks of life. Fortunately, it’s possible to close the gap between how people perceive you and how you want to be perceived. Gather reliable information and then make a commitment to change.