Self-awareness is essential for career success. Of course, introspection and self-assessments can help you better understand what you want out of your career and what motivates you. However, feedback from others is just as important. It’s vital that you know not only how you want to be perceived, but also how others really do perceive you.
Make a list of your bosses, managers, peers, subordinates, and clients or customers. How well aware are you of how you come across to these people? Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they might say if asked to assess you as a professional. Some of what you imagine might be accurate, but it’s also likely that a lot of what you guess will be very different from what these people would actually say about you.
It matters what others think of you at work
It’s important to know what others think of you for several reasons.
First, in order to get work done, you need cooperation from your peers and subordinates, support from your bosses, and the respect of your customers or clients. Those kinds of positive relationships just can’t thrive on misconceptions; you need truthful, fruitful interactions.
What’s more, the corporate environment can change on a dime. If you’re not plugged into what people really think, you could be blindsided by change. Not every course correction is big and obvious; often these changes are informal and unannounced, and you’ll be expected to pick up on what’s happening without being expressly told.
Feedback from others increases your self-knowledge
Combined with knowledge gleaned from your self-assessment, feedback from others can help you achieve a realistic and thorough picture of your skills, strengths, work styles and opportunities for growth.
Choose five people with whom you work; they may be bosses, peers, subordinates or a mix. Contact each person and let them know you’re participating in a career development program and would like their feedback. Emphasize that their honest, informed opinions will help you in your career development. Ask them to answer five questions about you:
- Could you describe in general what you think of me from a work point of view?
- What do you see as my most important strengths?
- What do you see as my downsides, limitations or things that could hold me back?
- If you could think of the ideal job for me, what would it be, or what would it be like?
- If you had one piece of career advice for me, what would it be?
You can add a layer of anonymity that may foster deeper honesty by asking your colleagues to return their answers to a career coach who will act as an intermediary. The coach can combine all the responses, removing names, before forwarding them to you.
Acting on the feedback
First, try not to take any negative feedback personally. No one is completely perfect, and you did this exercise to find out what people truly think. Don’t be angry at them for being honest. Or, you may be happy to find that your colleagues largely have good things to say about you, which probably means you’re doing your job well.
The feedback from others that you receive through this exercise should give you a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses, and a clear picture of how others view you professionally. You may discover problems you need to address, or opportunities you never considered on your own.
Open, honest feedback can help you discover if the way you see yourself is consistent with how others perceive you. Closing any gap can help you improve your job performance and continue on the career path you’ve chosen for yourself.