How do others see you?

One aspect of coaching that oftens initially surprises my clients is that I offer feedback that shows them something they hadn’t previously appreciated, something that reveals another factor or aspect of a situation and perhaps changes my client’s view of things.

For instance, I was working with one client (let’s call her Barb) who was hoping to make partner and entered coaching to strengthen her performance so she’ll be a strong candidate.  She’d picked up on some comments that made her question whether she was viewed as partner material.  I found Barb to be intelligent, personable, and funny.  I also noticed that when I’d ask her a question about her work, she downplayed the role she played.  It puzzled me, because I could tell from the kind of work she was describing that she was a heavy lifter on the cases, but to hear her tell she was simply supporting work done by others.  One day, Barb said that a particular concern she held about making partner was that it didn’t seem like anyone regarded her work as being important or notable.  She explained the evidence for her feeling, and then I asked her permission to share an assessment.

I told her that when she described her own work, she minimized and understated her contribution.  To hear her tell the story, she contributed little more than hours — and certainly nothing critical in terms of strategy or deep analysis.  But when I asked specifically and pressed, she’d tell me about tasks she’d done and decisions she’d made that were quite high-level.  My assessment was that because she was so careful not to overstate her contribution — and perhaps so uncomfortable being in the spotlight — she didn’t give a fair opportunity for someone to understand the kind and level of work that she was doing.

We devised a plan for Barb to share more about her work, and she discovered that when she changed her style and became more open about what she was doing, people began to appreciate the scope of her work and to understand what she was capable of doing.  She got more and better work, and she felt that others’ perception of her was more accurate.

Feedback can be incredibly useful, whether it’s helping to illuminate a blind spot on communication style, professional skills, or strategy.  Corporations often use 360-degree profiles, in which subordinates, colleagues, and supervisors provide feedback to a third party about the person being reviewed, and the third party then conveys the anonymous and summarized feedback to the subject of the profile.  Such candid feedback can be helpful in highlighting strengths or in pointing out shortcomings in a clear and matter-of-fact manner, and both functions can help with development.  In fact, I’ve read several books on leadership over the past few weeks, and every one of them recommended undergoing a 360-degree profile process as a critical, foundational step for leadership development.

Law firms have historically declined to use these tools, though there’s some indication that the trend is changing.  Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to get objective feedback where possible (if, for instance, you’re working with a coach or a mentor) and important to become skilled in learning to see oneself through the eyes of others.  Particularly when something seems to be askew, it’s a great exercise to step back and ask… How do others see you?

2 replies
  1. Sheryl Sisk Schelin
    Sheryl Sisk Schelin says:

    Julie- how true! I’ve found frequently, both with clients and with myself, that we basically tell people how to treat us and what to think of us. Put another way, you have to love yourself before others will, right? It’s true in love and in careers – in relationships of all types, in fact. The good news is that it’s capable of being fixed. But regardless, it’s important to start by realizing that others usually mirror our own view of ourselves.

  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi, Julie,

    I don’t know your “Barb” but I have coached others “Barbs” who manifest a similar negative self-image. One of the first experiences I ask Barb when she tells her story, is to tell the “rest of the story” (the “what’s really going on”). What’s underneath her sense of lack and deficiency. Her story today is most often not “the” story, in my experience, but a replay of a story that she has felt and told herself over time in other work (and/or life) situations.

    One key for Barb, for me, is to gently and compassionately inquire into why she is choosing to give away her power, play small, and resist showing up and what it’s like to acknowledge that she is doing that. What usually arises is a litany of childhood, adolescent and teenage experiences that led her to create a belief, or self-image that back then she was not “partner material”, i.e., good enough, deserving enough or competent enough in some way, shape, or form.

    Working with Barb on the level of emotion, feeling, and her felt sense of her lack, she was able to move to a felt-sense (not simply intellectual, which often evaporates over time) place where she discovered that, “that was then; this is now” and that she did not have to bring these early beliefs and self-images around lack and deficiency to her adult world.

    Over time, Barb was able to access (not “think herself into”…which, for me, does not last) her internal strength, courage, will and essence (the core of who she was, not an image of who she was), and begin to melt and metabolize the negative feelings of feeling unworthy so that little by little when she found herslf in situations where she was required to speak up and out, manifest her power (assertiveness, not aggressiveness), and show up, she had created the capacity to do so.

    In time, Barb’s energy, drive, motivation led her to a place where she was seen and felt seen. She also realized that consciously looking at “blind spots” and reactivity drove much of her adult limiting behavior and now has a way to sit and explore, inquire into, and journal around, with curiosity not judgment, who she is an how she is in life’s interactions and make conscious choices and changes she feels are self-supporting….unencumbered by her “stories.”

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