Reboot your reputation

In an exclusive series of articles for TJ, Elva Ainsworth features extracts from her new book, written specifically to help people better manage feedback.

What other people think of you shouldn’t matter, but it does. Some of us spend years working out how to have it not matter, others pretend they don’t care, while the rest have not noticed that it does!  But it really makes a difference, regardless of your point of view. 

Your ability and potential to act and be a leader, at work and in life in general, is dependent on others agreeing to work with you. Your effectiveness depends on their eagerness to follow you and engage with you. Their view of you directly impacts how they listen to you – i.e. they will listen to what you say and do so through the filters of their opinions.

Having coached hundreds of managers through their 360 data, I came to see just how critical other people’s opinions are every time. They’re not just a consequence and by‑product of your performance; they define who you are and what freedom you are granted to be by others. 

Your capacity as a leader is quite literally in their hands.

What can I do about it?

Data such as 360-degree feedback can show you exactly what they think – just like an MRI scan can show you what is going on in your body. But, once you know their views, the really interesting question becomes – “What can I do about it?”.

Your ability and potential to act and be a leader, at work and in life in general, is dependent on others agreeing to work with you.

This is where my personal experience of dealing with gender bias proved very useful. Realising that many people saw me first as a tall, red-haired, well-spoken and middle-aged, mother of three rather than an experienced and astute business woman was hard.

Over a number of years (15 of which I had been running a successful business), I tried a number of different ways to shift this disappointing and disempowering situation – one that left me floundering in confidence and struggling to lead my team. Some of these strategies worked better than others, but all are worth consideration.

Now, you might think that you just need to do things differently, but opinions and judgements are not necessarily logical or changeable. They tend to be closely guarded and held most dear. Once you’ve decided you ‘can’t trust’ someone for instance, it will be hard for someone else to persuade you otherwise. 

So, it is critical and tough to change but, in my experience, it’s possible and I see three key ways that will form the three articles in this series. Firstly, you can change how you relate to their opinion. Secondly, you can go to the trouble of changing yourself and, lastly, you can simply (but profoundly) change your context.  

So, in the first of this series of articles, I offer some strategies to help readers change how they relate to other people’s opinions with three practical ways to get a new perspective on the situation. 

Strategy one – Be you; just as you are

This strategy is as hard as it is to drop, say, a printed copy of Training Journal. You just have to open your hands and let it go. Easy. The magazine falls to the ground. Or perhaps not?

Let’s imagine you don’t like their opinions of you – they may be critical or overly harsh for instance. What there is to do is to ‘accept’ them as they are and to see them as a natural and obvious consequence of how you have been showing up. 

In short, you are responsible; your actions and intentions caused the result you got. If you can be ‘OK’ with this, then things can shift. While you hold a grudge or are upset they usually stay pretty stuck; just as you can be stuck gripping a magazine you want to drop.

So, how do you ‘let go’? There are several stages in the process.

Step one – appreciate that it is you who is suffering; other people probably don’t really mind thinking what they are thinking about you. But what do you get out of this position of suffering? You might get to be right (when others are clearly ‘wrong’), or you get evidence to prove a key story you tell yourself (‘I am not good enough anyway’) or you may get to dominate the situation with your reactions for instance.

Step two – accept their opinions as fair and legitimate. If you let your defences and justifications go, you can start to see the logic of their position. It always makes sense.

Step three – being OK with their position. Their opinions may be valid, but can you be OK with that? The natural response is to not be OK but to blame and criticise in return, but this is not helpful to you. If you detach meaning from their opinions, you can be OK with them.

Step four – being OK with life this way. This is the mature route to peace on the matter – simply accepting things just as they are. It is OK.

This strategy will work but it does not necessarily make the opinions (and their consequences) disappear with any speed or certainty, so you may prefer to take bolder action.

Strategy two – Be bold; stand against their views

Trying to change someone’s mind will meet with resistance. To stand against it will not be an easy ride and may even end up with them taking a more extreme view. If you’re willing to take this risk, however, there are some options:

  • Use someone else to persuade them
  • Find a new fact to bring to the conversation
  • Focus on something bigger than their opinion
  • Face them directly and apologise for having been this way
  • Ask them what you can do differently
  • Work to prove them wrong; checking in to see if they have changed their mind from time to time.

If these do not work – or feel too risky – then you can go to the next level of intervention.

Strategy three – Be brave; show up the bias

Consider that their opinions of you could be sourced in prejudice and bias where the roots are as much connected to a group identity and stereotype as they are about you personally. Surprisingly, this could often be the case and this is what to do if you suspect bias is impacting you:

  • Plan around the bias to compensate for it. Even though these opinions are personal to you, the real issue is much bigger than you – historically and/or culturally. For instance, you can work with someone who will make up for your perceived weaknesses – e.g. partner with a tough financial business person if you are seen as “too nice.”
  • Unhook their bias. This is tricky but magically effective. It involves speaking of the bias without issue; voicing that you are indeed “no business authority” if you think this may be behind their hesitation.  You can then watch their processing unravel and they will start listening to you properly.
  • Paint an alternative scenario changing the race/gender, whatever the suspected bias is. Describing an alternate scenario with the genders switched, for instance, can be totally disarming for the opinionated and most enlightening!
  • Calling it out by simply speaking clearly and assertively about the bias itself will make a difference. Best to do so privately and without emotion or criticism otherwise this tends to generate a defensive response rather than a true openness.

All these options involve breaking the silence and acceptance of these biases. It is my belief that only by having new conversations will things ever change in some of our deep-rooted, culturally-centred biases.

So, if you have picked up the vibes of a negative opinion of you, take heart and do something about it. There are straightforward options ranging from a simple acceptance to a brave speaking out.  Either way, you do not need to suffer, nor do you have to actually change.



About the author

Elva Ainsworth is founder and CEO at Talent Innovations. Her new book, ‘Reboot Your Reputation,’ ​is out now.


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