“Why so glum, Jim?”
“I just got a compliment. At least, I guess that’s what it was. I did a favour for Mary, and she told me how grateful she is to have me around, that I’m always so loyal and faithful and friendly.”
“I can understand why she would say that. So, what’s the matter?”
“Well, those are the same words that you would use to describe a black lab!”
There is an essential truth to that observation, isn’t there? Many of the qualities that make dogs “human’s best friends” are the same qualities that we value in our human friends.
However, Jim found it disconcerting to hear himself described using the very words he would use to describe his pet. “Is that all people see? I’m more than that!”
How do other people see us? How would they describe us? While we have our own perceptions of how we are viewed, how do we know?
We can get clues based on how people interact with us; however, that’s not necessarily the whole truth. So when someone offers their honest insight, they are giving us a gift, and a fairly rare gift, at that.
For Jim, though, this “gift” was unsettling. So, an appropriate choice theory question is, “How would you like to be perceived? What words would you rather have used to describe you?”
Maybe Jim would rather be perceived as devil-may-care: an unpredictable, undependable dude with a crowd of casual friends but no deep relationships. (Somehow I doubt that, but it is Jim’s choice.) Maybe he’d like to be perceived as a creative, inventive, inspiring leader. Or maybe he’d prefer to be seen as a knowledgeable, respected, yet approachable authority. It’s his life, and his choice.
Putting some thought into how one wants to be perceived is an effective first step toward turning that hoped-for perception into reality. What are the words you’d like to describe you? Confident? Brave? Smart? Inspiring? Loving?
Jim could perceive his description of “loyal, faithful, and friendly” as a wonderful compliment. However, if that’s not the description that he wants, then knowing what description he does want is a first step toward getting it.
Once clear in our own minds about how we want to be perceived, we can choose our actions accordingly. After all, it’s our actions that people see—not our intents, our thoughts, or our plans.
For example, if Jim wants to be perceived as an authority, when the opportunity arises, display your confidence. Demonstrate your knowledge.
If Jim wants to be perceived as a leader, then choose to take charge. One excellent reference to help choose appropriate leadership actions is “The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner.
How would you like to be perceived? Try this experiment. Ask a few trusted friends to think of three words that they would use to describe you. You think of your own three words. Exchange and discuss! Are your word choices similar? Widely different? Does that tell you anything?