External Self-Awareness – How People See Us

You come into work every day late.  Dragging your feet across the floor, immediately going to the coffee machine to get your quick fix while dodging conversations from annoying Joe in the cubical next to you.  You groan as you slump into your chair and you begin to start your workday.

People have a vision of how they perceive you.  Susan might see you as a lazy, unmotivated worker who doesn’t care to work with other people on projects judging by how you walk into the office every day.  However, Meagan knows the feeling of getting three little kids ready for school in the morning and being exhausted by the time 9 am rolls around. She understands why you avoid people until you have had that second cup of coffee.  Everyone will see you in a different light depending on how you choose to think, react and act throughout your day.  By taking time to reflect on how people might perceive you, your body language, and your actions, in comparison to how you want to be perceived, you can note small improvements you should make to have more control over the outcomes in your life. When we put ourselves in other people’s shoes looking through their eyes or perspective we can see areas of improvement that might not have been as prevalent before. This type of reflection helps increase your external self-awareness.

Internal self-awareness is being able to examine your thoughts and emotions to be aware of your actions, traits, and feelings. It’s about how we see our strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, characteristics, etc.

External self-awareness is being able to examine yourself from an outside perspective to gather insights from the world around you about how you are perceived by other people.

When it comes to improving our external self-awareness we need to spend time thinking outside of ourselves. In order to do that, we need to open our minds, pretend we are other people, and how we might feel and think about and around ourselves as if we were a fly on the wall instead of the person we are.

Think about how people might view you

Because Susan has already seen you and labelled you as an employee that doesn’t want to engage with anyone else, she doesn’t want to ask you if you to collaborate on a new project she was assigned. Instead, she asks annoying Joe while you sit on the sideline even though you were perfect for the job.

It’s important not to let others define us by what they see on the surface. You may have amazing quality traits that are overshadowed by the fact that people are putting you in a stereotypical bubble. But, what has caused them to create that impression of us in the first place? It’s important to take a second to think about how other people see us in order to break down that stereotype. Changing that impression can also lead to new opportunities in our lives.

Think of it this way, imagine you had a special pair of glasses. When you put on those glasses you can change the view from those glasses to outline how Susan sees the world. With the click of a button, you can change the settings to show you how Brian views the world, and with another click how John views the world. What is it that they see when they look at you? What is it about your appearance, your personality traits, your work ethic, etc. that has led them to conclude their impression of who you are as an individual? It’s important to look at a variety of perspectives and not just one person as everyone’s thoughts are different. For example, your boss seeing you roll into work late every day looking exhausted might think you are obsessed with video games and don’t go to bed early enough to get to work on time the next day. Your kid’s teacher on the other hand might see you take the time to drop your kids off each day at school making sure they have their binder, backpack, lunch, and that they didn’t forget their Tuba for their afterschool lesson before rushing off to work. As you might have summarized the teacher has a much more positive impression of you as a person than your boss would have in this example. The difference all boils down to context. When we take the time to examine these external perspectives we can look for the negative stories people might have created in their minds about us and then work to change those perspectives into more positive outlooks.

Building stronger connections help to shift perspectives

Being aware of how people view you is the key to being able to grow as a person but also in your life and work.  The more you are aware of the impact that you have on people around you in your day-to-day interactions, the better you’ll be at building stronger relationships that you can leverage along the way. For instance, you might think your jokes are hilarious. But sometimes, there is a time and place. If you’re cracking one during a very serious discussion that your boss is having with you about a health concern and don’t know how to “read the room”, that could put you in trouble. They might think of you as inconsiderate, immature, heartless, and judgmental when in reality, you were just trying to help out and lighten the mood because you yourself might have been uncomfortable with the conversation overall. The more in touch you are with how you make others feel, the more you will be able to make decisions that help create positive feelings and relationships with people in your lives. Connecting with others around you takes energy and time so don’t expect massive improvements to happen overnight but, sometimes a little goes a long way as well. Those who don’t know you well are the ones more likely to stick to their judgements about who you are and what you are capable of. Aim to work on getting to know those people better first. You’ve heard before, of people who are best friends now but, who might have said “when I first met X, I hated her/him.” now, they are seemingly connected at the hip. There will also be people who no matter how hard you try to get to know them to break down that barrier, won’t budge. And, that’s ok. Those people, just aren’t your people. There’s nothing wrong with that either. If you have a hard time letting go, you might also find this article helpful.

People watch and practice observing the people around you

Look at the body language of others in various places and situations and compare and contrast the responses you see from different reactions. If you ask someone how their brother is doing and they respond with, “Oh I don’t talk to him anymore.. Anyways….” they might even look uncomfortable carrying on the conversation or perhaps they try to change the conversation; make a mental note. Clearly, this person does not want to talk about that specific person or thing so don’t press them about it. Listening skills can be improved to help you excel at home and at work when it comes to relationships. External self-awareness is knowing when and how you made someone feel and how you respond or responded in that situation. You not only want to look at body language but listen to what the person is saying specifically. If you continued to nag the person to find out why they don’t talk to their brother, you’re likely to upset them. If in the past you might have pushed too far in a conversation, reflect on how you could have approached that conversation differently. How could that change have impacted the persons’ impression of you at that moment? A person who kept pressing for details might be perceived as pushy, rude, aggressive, or self-serving. Whereas a person who noted the dislike towards that subject and changed the subject of the conversation might be seen as empathetic, perceptive, caring, and emotionally intelligent.

If you’re really stuck on trying to understand another person’s perspective about you or anything else for that matter, you might just need an outside opinion. Ask questions like, “how would you describe me?”, “what is something that I have to work on?”, “how do I come across to you?” Take this information and feedback; good and bad and treat it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Keep in mind that when you ask these questions you need to be open to the responses as well. The person’s answers shouldn’t be seen by yourself as a personal attack, but more of an example as to where and how you can make improvements. The less reactive we are to feedback the easier it is to take that feedback and implement positive changes in our lives.

Becoming self-aware takes time, and effort. We have to put the work in and keep an open mind each and every day to create long-term habits that improve our well-being. Someone might forever think of us as “too much” but don’t let that define who you are.  Not everyone will like you, but when you get the feels that things aren’t going your way for one reason or another it might be time to take a step back, and put on those rose-coloured glasses to understand why.

“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” – Abraham Maslow

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