When you walk into a room, do you know how others perceive you? Do they know you only by your rank and military status or do they know who you are as a person and the values you stand for? When someone hears your name, do they respond favorably or bristle in frustration?

You might believe that it doesn’t matter what others think of you — it just matters that you are confident and capable. “After all,” you might think, “what they believe is their problem, not mine.”

But the way others perceive you does matter, and it can become your problem if their beliefs about you aren’t truthful or accurate or don’t align with what you care about.

Consider this example: Let’s say Bob is exiting the military and starting a career in medical sales. He served as a medic in the Army, received decorations for his service and knows a lot about how medical devices and systems need to work to be responsive in the field or emergency room.

When he interacts with his civilian counterparts on the job, however, Bob comes across as abrupt, pushy and a “know-it-all.” People on his team start leaving him out of important conversations. The hospital administrators and the doctors to which Bob sells begin requesting to work with other sales representatives because his style is off-putting. Bob starts to lose opportunities and clients.

Still think it doesn’t matter what other people think of you?

In Bob’s case, his knowledge and competence as a sales professional was up to par. But his demeanor, style and approach turned off his colleagues and clients. He was known to abruptly avoid small talk at the beginning of a meeting, instead jumping right into the business at hand.

He also tended to cut people off if they talked too long and inserted his own opinions when not called for. This made others around him feel uneasy and on edge. If Bob isn’t willing to address this and modify his approach, he might find his business options limited or vanishing.

How others perceive you can directly affect and impact the opportunities they afford you. Whether you are looking for a job, seeking to grow your career or looking for more information to support your current work, if others aren’t willing to refer, endorse and support you, it can be problematic.

Instead, pay attention to:

  • The opportunities you’re attracting. Are they aligned with your goals and objectives for your current and future career?
  • How you’re introduced to others. If influential people are reluctant to refer you, that can signal a problem. Similarly, if they enthusiastically refer you for opportunities you want, that’s a good sign!
  • What you hear about your reputation. Yes, even gossip is helpful to understanding how you’re being perceived. Instead of meeting this feedback with defensiveness, consider whether you need to make modifications to your behavior or communication to positively build up the perception you want others to hold of you.
  • Blind spots you may have. Often, it’s when others around us hold up a mirror to our behavior or interactions that we see weaknesses or threats we didn’t know were there. Keep yourself alert and open to blind spots that could be negatively impacting perception and thereby limiting the opportunities you’re afforded.

While we can’t be relevant, interesting, attractive and compelling to everyone we meet, it is critical for your career that the people who hold access to what you want view you in the best light. Perceptions can be shifted, repaired and modified, but the first step is understanding what they are.

When you see misalignment between how you’re currently viewed and how you want others to see you, you’re in a better position to modify your behavior and communication to gain better results.

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