A few years ago, I left a business meeting feeling uneasy. I couldn’t read the reaction in the room and wasn’t sure what kind of impression I left on my audience. I wished I could see myself in context through the eyes of my peers. I was especially curious about those elusive qualities that set the tone of an interaction: first impression, ability to instill trust, sense of vision. At that moment, I knew instinctively what many of us fear: I don’t know myself as well as I think I do.
An op-ed by Tim Kreider that quickly went viral last summer has the same premise. Through a fairly common email accident, Kreider received a message that wasn’t intended for him, and learned a bit more than he bargained for about how his friends really view him.
Kreider’s takeaway is that we should all be kinder in our assessment of others—even though we probably won’t be—because “what other people think of you is none of your business.” But, in our life and our work, this kind of ignorance is rarely bliss.
When people don’t know we’re listening— when they feel free to be truly honest—they give the most valuable feedback we could ever hope to receive. Without it, we lack important insights that could steer our personal and professional lives in a more meaningful direction.
At a time when the traditional career path seems a distant memory, we can’t afford to be so aloof about the impression we leave with others. To be competitive, we need to know how other people see us, what they think we’re good at, and what blind spots we carry around.
It’s often said that we judge other people on their actions and ourselves on our intentions. This makes our peers an invaluable resource. They see what our behavior demonstrates, without the internal benefit of the doubt we often afford ourselves.
So next time you read a story decrying the millennial impulse to cast away privacy in the pursuit of public exposure, consider this: it may be evolutionary. In the face of a job market that is increasingly uncertain, we need the unvarnished feedback of our peers more than ever. The more we know about ourselves, the better prepared we are to chart our own course.
About the Author
Ilya Zeldin is the founder of 2gn?ME, a 360-degree awareness platform that helps people see themselves as others see them.
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