The Way You Are Isn’t Always the Way You Come Across

Canaday, SarasmIf you always try to put your best foot forward, yet you’re not gaining the ground you deserve, it could be your communication style. Career strategist and author Sara Canaday helps you identify the blind spots that are holding you back.

by Sara Canaday

You can do everything right for your career—network, take on extra projects, work overtime, etc.—yet still find yourself veering off track because of professional blind spots: little behaviors, attitudes and ways of communicating (verbally and otherwise) that are holding you back or causing full-on setbacks in the workplace.

It turns out that we all have these blinds spots, and the only way to identify them and deal with them is to ask someone who has a different perspective and who will be honest enough to tell you the truth about yourself. It’s not to say your personal style needs a complete overhaul. It’s more to do with finding those qualities that are causing a disconnect between what you intend and the impact you’re having. You can honor who your are, while choosing to make adjustments that help others see you more clearly.

In my book You—According to Them, I’ve identified nine different syndromes or “blind spots” using very distinct characters and case studies from my 15 years of work on the subject. Here are just four of them.

“Don’t Fence Me In

This blind spot affects those who are often quite sharp and industrious, but habitually resist what they perceive to be constraints of authority—unnecessary rules that limit their individuality, their creativity, and most of all, their freedom. This can result in someone being categorized as rebellious or uncooperative, difficult and even defiant.

If this is you, it’s time approach the structure and norms of business in a new way.

Rather than taking an oppositional stance to professional protocols, consider that business is a game, and following the rules simply is a prerequisite for participation. Thus, playing the game could be a smart, savvy (perhaps even fun and strategic) way to get ahead…not a humiliating, white-flag-waving surrender of your true self. You can and should remain authentic, but you can still insure that you’re having the impact that you want to have.

A slight shift in your thinking can make a big difference in your actions and communication style, and thus the perceptions that follow—and the reputation you want to improve.

Frozen Compass Syndrome

People with Frozen Compass syndrome rely on their usual style of interacting and communicating with others, despite changing conditions and demands for new approaches.

Whether that style is to be extremely candid and direct, or more understated and indirect, you’re so comfortable following the same path that has always worked for you that you don’t recognize the roadblock you’ve created.

If you suspect that Frozen Compass syndrome might be your professional blind spot, take some time to analyze your personal work style. Start by defining your typical manner of interacting with other people. Cheerful and chatty? Efficient and impersonal? How has this natural tendency been successful for you in the past? Have you been rewarded for that behavior?

Now consider why your style may not be working for you now. What has changed in your work environment? One of the primary tools you can use to minimize Frozen Compass syndrome is self-awareness—being more aware of your own behaviors and those of the people around you. What subtle cues could you pay more attention to?

No Crying in Baseball

People in this category excel at functional, task-related skills like technology or accounting but fall short when it comes to relationship-building and empathy, which require different communication abilities. What should be a strong reputation for technical excellence is often clouded by a reputation for having a mechanical, detached personality.

If you think you might have tendencies toward No Crying in Baseball syndrome, ask yourself these questions: Do you feel uncomfortable showing any kind of emotions at the office? Do you inwardly lose respect for colleagues who express emotion more openly? Do you focus so intently on a task that you lose sight of the people involved?

If any of these ring a bell, there are valid strategies to help you make changes. Start by uncovering the genesis of your belief that displaying emotion is inappropriate. Most of us spend at least half of our waking hours at the office, so it’s important to connect with our co-workers and relate to them on a more meaningful level.

Faulty Volume Control 

People in this category are struggling to find the optimal level for their own self-promotion: Blending in to the woodwork vs. standing out.

With some, their volume is too low, while others’ have no trouble promoting themselves full-throttle. The bottom line is that neither type will reach their full potential until they tune in and find just the right volume level for communicating their value.

Getting hired or promoted is determined much less by what’s on paper and much more by how you bring those credentials to life. Making yourself stand out involves turning up the volume—strategically communicating your strengths with the right people and infusing your personality to add warmth, depth and dimension to your resume. Whether you succeed or fail is often determined by whether you can find the right volume level—and better control the way others see your value.

Thankfully, there are ways to fix each of these blind spots so that you are not paralyzed or stalled in your career. Once you understand the power of your personal reputation, your can begin to see how others’ perceptions of you can impact your ability to compete and succeed in the marketplace.

Sara Canaday is a national leadership expert, career strategist, speaker and author of You – According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career. She will be on the panel “Marketing Yourself Personally and Professionally” at the Texas Conference for Women. Look for her this fall!