Reputation—We All Have One
You shouldn't care what people think of you—except at work
By Katherine Ziolecki
Earlier this year, our teenage son got his first job at a fast food restaurant. Fast forward six months later, and his favourite supervisor is leaving. He has been sharing his opinions with us about which one of his coworkers would make a good supervisor.
Something interesting that I have observed since he entered the workforce is his change in attitude toward caring about how he is perceived.
We often hear people say, “You shouldn’t care about what people think of you.” And while that is a healthy attitude, in certain situations it is not great advice. At work is one of those situations.
Your coworkers and managers will naturally form a perception of you, and that will become your reputation. Perceptions are formed by the habits and characteristics that you exhibit consistently.
In the workplace, you can see the advantages of a good reputation and the disadvantages of a bad one.
A quote I read some time ago that stuck with me was by Selina Rezvani, an author on women in leadership. She said, “The most important career capital you have is not your technical skills or academic pedigree. It is not your high-flying title. It is not even your relationships. It is your reputation.”
Your reputation may be particularly important to you when you apply for a promotion or when you are getting a review at work.
So, what do you do if your reputation is tarnished? Perhaps you are known for having a bad rapport with your coworkers, or you are frequently late.
The good news is you do not have to quit your job and start over to fix it. You are in control of your reputation, and you can change it.
If you truly want to change a negative characteristic about yourself, first you must take action to stop the current behaviour.
If you have a reputation for being 5 or 10 minutes late, and your start time is 8:00 a.m., coming in at 8:00 a.m. on the dot one time will not change the perception others have of you for always being late, or give your coworkers the perception that you are always on time.
Instead, come in 10 or 15 minutes early, consistently, and spend that time in the lunchroom until your start time.
Another example may be that your manager has told you that you are known to gossip. You can change that by positively speaking about your coworkers and uplifting them.
When you make changes to your behaviour, it will most likely not be noticed right away. It will take some time for your coworkers and managers to notice it.
If you applied for a promotion, being extra nice to your coworkers or showing up on time for a couple of weeks will not be enough time for your efforts to be noticed. But over time and with consistency, your coworkers will start to trust that this is the new you.
While changing a negative behaviour will help fix a negative reputation, it does not necessarily mean that it will result in a good reputation either. Reputation is something we get by default. But we can also be intentional about creating it.
To be known at work for something good, you need to redirect the focus on your positive characteristics. The best way to do this is to amplify what you are already good at.
Talk to a manager or trusted coworker and get their feedback about what your strengths are. Talking to your manager will also show them that you care about your professional growth. As a result, they will be more likely to pay attention to your progress.
Perhaps you are good at rallying the team to get things done, or you have great customer service skills and you have grown customer loyalty. Focus on getting even better at your positive characteristics and putting them to use.
There will be times that require someone to take the lead on a challenge. Those situations are opportunities for you to step up and refocus attention to your positive characteristics in the workplace.
We all want to be well regarded and recognized for our contributions at work. It is a good idea to give some thought to how our coworkers perceive us as team members.
Whether you are applying for a promotion, or like my son, who checks his schedule to see who’s on shift with him that day, remember to be mindful that your reputation will get there before you do.
12 Ways to Build Your Reputation at Work
- Be on time—consistently. By arriving before your scheduled work, you will help build a reputation of being reliable.
- Do your job, and do it well. This shows that you are competent.
- Don’t try to get away with doing as little as possible. It will not only leave you feeling unsatisfied, but it will give you a reputation as a work shirk. And don’t avoid unpleasant tasks and leave them to others. This only demonstrates that you’re not a team player.
- Own up to your mistakes. If you look to minimize your mistakes or blame them on others or circumstances, you will develop a reputation of not being able to get the job done. Career-enhancing tasks will be given to others.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Showing that you are open to learning helps build a reputation of modesty rather than arrogance.
- Don’t be afraid to provide input. Share your expertise openly without an air of superiority or being condescending or denigrating others’ lack of knowledge or skill.
- Avoid gossip about coworkers or the company. Airing legitimate grievances with coworkers, stewards, and your union representative is important to address and resolve concerns. But gossip only decreases morale and does nothing to fix the problem.
- Be professional. Your job likely entails some stress from time to time. Be calm, courteous, and show restraint rather than lashing out.
- Be positive, kind, and caring. When you are, others tend to do likewise, making work much more pleasant for everyone.
- Offer to help. If a coworker is struggling with a task, offer to give them a hand. Nothing shows that you care for others than when you are there to help them.
- Be adaptable. Change is a part of work and life. Being able to adapt shows that you are flexible and open to new ideas.
- Be open, transparent, and welcoming. Small daily actions, such as saying good morning to coworkers, asking how they are doing, etc., establish that you are friendly and available. Sharing information instead of concealing it builds trust.
Sources: businessinsider.com, Harvard Business Review
6 Ways to Ruin Your Reputation at Work
- Never turning down work – You can put yourself in a bad position if you bite off more than you can chew. Be realistic about what you can do and what you can’t. Taking on everything and not getting it done or doing it poorly will damage your reputation. And taking on too much can also leave you burned out.
- Paying too much attention to your boss – This will make your coworkers view you as someone seeking favours or special treatment, which will lead to resentment. Engage with your boss, but don’t suck up to them.
- Taking credit – Nothing says you’re not a team player than taking credit for an idea that was someone else’s. It’s a sure way to get others to not want to work with you or trust you.
- Bragging about your accomplishments – If you go on about what great work you do, people will stop listening to you. Instead, talk about your coworkers’ accomplishments, and let them talk about yours.
- Talking instead of listening – Doing this will ensure your coworkers see you as being self-centred and uncaring.
- Constantly complaining – When you complain about everything, you create a negative mood in your workplace. Your coworkers will avoid you and label you a whiner.
Sources: usnews.com, forbes.com, techrepublic.com