Ever wonder if you have a reputation at the office? It’s a basic question that surely many of us have pondered. Followed by the thought, “If I do, what exactly is it?”
Let’s be honest, not everyone cares whether or not they have a reputation in the office. In fact, some people may actually like the fact that others have labeled them in a particular way. And despite the notion that reputations are purely a high school thing–a phase we clearly mature out of–we are still in fact human. It’s in our nature to internally speculate about behavior and place judgments on others based on what we see rather than what we actually know. In fact, the Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as such:
The common opinion that people have about someone or something : overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general.
So what’s the typical cycle of reputations? How are they started? How do they spread? How do we clue ourselves in to them? And finally, how can we combat them respectfully? There are so many questions and most certainly, many answers. Today however, we’ll simply touch upon the subject matter to provide a visual and encourage our readers to share their opinions and advice.
How We Create Reputations
How many times have you made assumptions about a person based on what you observe? Perhaps saying to yourself something along the lines of the following:
- Dave’s office is a total mess. He must be disorganized.
- Tricia is always the last to show up to a meeting. She is unreliable.
- Peter always shuts his office door. He is unfriendly.
- Bethany spends a lot of time in the break room talking to others. She is a gossip.
No one cares to admit that not only is it relatively easy to base our opinions on an individual’s demeanor, but by doing so, we create an unspoken reputation that’s hard for the target to combat. After all, when was the last time someone in your company openly admitted that you are considered the office bully, gossip, procrastinator, crab apple, know-it-all, drama queen, etc.? Our guess is rarely if not ever. And that is a major problem to the individual who is unaware of how people view them.
When Your Reputation Is Revealed
Meet Dave. He is six foot six and 250 pounds. He has worked at his company for 15 years and has a hefty background in closing business deals. Naturally, he is the office go-to person when problems arise or difficult negotiations are needed. He’s tough when it’s warranted and aggressive when he needs to be. And while he has a strong, confident air about him, he simultaneously fosters a great rapport with the customers he accommodates. Recently however, Dave is discovering he has a reputation in the office. On two separate occasions, colleagues have revealed they find him intimidating.
I was forwarded an email chain that contained a discussion about an upcoming meeting. I was not originally on the email chain, so those involved did not filter their apprehensions about working with me. The word ‘intimidated’ was not used, but some of the communication eluded as such. Then, during our office Christmas party, I sat with one of my coworkers for dinner. We had a few laughs, talked about work and just enjoyed the atmosphere. At one point in the conversation, she looked at me and said she was surprised by how nice I was. I asked her why and she said I was very intimidating in the office. It was difficult to hear because I’ve never viewed myself in such a way. After that, I began making more of an effort at becoming more approachable.
Dave’s size alone can be misleading. At first glance, it’s easy to be intimidated by his tall, bulky frame. To exasperate it all, he is also the person in the group who has the job of being tough with negotiations and fixing problematic situations. So, it isn’t difficult to see how feelings of intimidation could arise. As it turns out however, once he was in a relaxed environment, judgments and assumptions were put to rest. All it took was a conversation to see that deep down, he’s just a genuinely nice and funny guy.
Combating False Assumptions
If you know (or think) you have a reputation at work trust us: it’s not the end of the world. It is however, something you should try to put to rest. And not necessarily because we think you need to belong to the group or follow the crowd. False or not, a reputation can weaken your position in the company. You could end up being underestimated or overlooked for a particular project or role simply because people don’t like working with you. Inevitably, negative perceptions in the office can affect personal productivity and stall one’s ability to work effectively within a team setting.
One way to overcome judgement in the office is by taking a step outside of yourself to perceive what others are seeing. Ask yourself, are you approachable? Do you make an effort to connect with those around you? Are you sending signals that are off-putting to others?
Do you have advice on how to combat office reputations? Let’s get the conversation going!