How Do People See You and Does it Matter?
The Interaction Attraction
If you’re like me, then every day you interact with other people. Maybe a few, maybe a lot. Your interaction may or may not involve speaking but it will always involve a degree of connection and communication. It might be with friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, passers-by or total strangers. It could be a one-time thing, an occasional thing or an all-the-time thing. It might be intentional, strategic and conscious interaction or it could be spontaneous, organic and incidental. It might be significant or perhaps even life-changing but more often than not, it will be closer to the forgettable and inconsequential end of the scale.
No matter the situation, circumstance or intention, the people with whom you interact will always form an opinion of you. As you will of them. It’s what we humans do. Mostly, these assessments won’t be a highly judgmental, analytical or critical process (as such) but rather, a natural byproduct of simply connecting and interacting with another human being.
Consciously or not, intentionally or not, you and I are always assessing and evaluating the people around us. It’s an important and instinctive part of (1) how we connect and (2) our survival strategy. Is she lying? Can I trust him? Can I leave my children with her? Is this a person I want to form a friendship with? Go into business with? Listen to? Rely on? Allow in my car? My home? Invest time and energy in? Give a job to? Is this Craig Harper bloke full or crap or is he worth listening to?
And so on.
In life, we know that what we see (at first) is not always what we get (over the long term). Things are not always as they seem but nonetheless, assessments are made for better or worse. Like it or not, people are always evaluating you on some level. Forming an opinion. As they are of me. Having a public profile means that I’m always being evaluated and labeled. Most days I receive at least one “you’re an idiot” email. Such is life. Of course, we don’t like being evaluated but not liking it doesn’t change the reality of it. In some ways, how people perceive us doesn’t matter.
But in others, it does.
It’s all well and good to say “I’ll be me and if people don’t like the way I am then they can all get….” but that’s not only a poor strategy, it’s also ignorant, arrogant and naïve on a practical level. If you never care about what people think of you then you’re a fool. In business, in relationships, in life.
Like it or not, there are times when how people see you matters.
Warning: Now, before anyone misinterprets what I’m saying here (as is often the case), let me be clear about what I’m not saying: having an interest in how other people perceive you is not (on any level) the same as being obsessed with what people think of you. One is about building connection, understanding and awareness, the other is about insecurity and emotional immaturity. One is logical, the other, irrational.
Don’t confuse the two.
Every time I deliver a presentation (like the one I did this afternoon), I am evaluated. Sometimes that evaluation comes in the form of verbal feedback from the client, sometimes it comes in the form of an email but more often that not, my performance is rated quantitatively and qualitatively via feedback sheets filled out by the audience at the end of my gig.
Can you imagine being the specific focus of five hundred people’s judgment?
Naturally, it can be uncomfortable and intimidating but it can also be valuable, enlightening and potentially positive if I allow it to be. If I can put a lid on my insecurity and ego and use the feedback in a constructive and practical way then it can actually improve not only my career, my effectiveness as a presenter and my earning potential but also everything from my personal relationships to my day-to-day level of self-awareness.
Being conscious of how other people perceive you is not to be confused with being self-conscious, insecure or needy. Neither does being aware of how you are perceived by the people around you mean that you need to compromise your beliefs, values or authenticity. No, it’s not about changing who you are but rather changing the way you interact with the world around you.
It’s not about self-loathing or self-compromise, it’s about self-awareness.