Changing how people think of you is no easy feat, but if it comes to your attention that you have a less-than-stellar reputation at work, it’s natural to want to do something about it. Maybe you were passed over for a big opportunity, or a colleague let you in on the fact that others aren’t as impressed by your ability to work on a team as you’d hoped.
Regardless of the exact situation, the best thing you can do here is damage control. After all, what people think of the quality of your work and how you act while doing it are, in most cases, the biggest determining factors of whether you move up professionally. So what action can you take if you realize your rep is hurting you at work? First, don’t stress — you have options.
1. Address whether you’re a personality fit for your industry.
One thing a lot of people don’t consider when trying to deal with a not-so-great professional reputation is that their personality might not naturally line up with the industry they’re in. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost — just that adjustments need to be made.
“When I left the startup world to start working in corporate America, a lot of people told me that I was cocky,” says Leonard Kim, managing partner of InfluenceTree, a personal branding accelerator that teaches you how to position your brand, get featured in publications, and grow your social media following. Obviously, being considered overconfident isn’t exactly the work rep most people are going for. “I couldn’t understand what they were talking about, because I needed time to figure out the differences between how corporate America and startups worked,” he explains.
Once he put effort into discerning what was different about the two work environments, he was able to adjust his behavior to be more appropriate for the corporate world. The key here? If you think personality traits may be to blame for your bad rep, do your best to turn things around quickly, because Kim says these types reputation issues tend to follow you, even if you make adjustments to your behavior. And if you see that people aren’t changing the way the think about you in your current role? “Learn what you can and leave so you can be better equipped for your next role,” he advises.
2. Take responsibility.
Many people feel that they’ve developed a bad reputation at work based on one specific incident. Maybe you messed up on a big project and colleagues are now reluctant to hand work off to you, or you threw a coworker under the bus without really thinking about what the repercussions might be.
“In order to recover from a mistake, you have to take responsibility for what you did, then apologize and try to make things right,” Kim says. “You can still recover if you are humble, genuine, and sincere with your apology and start shifting your actions to prove you won’t do something similar again. Not many people take responsibility for their actions, so when you do, you will be seen as someone who holds themselves accountable and can be trusted in the long-term.” That’s a rep you definitely do want to develop.
3. Use your vacation wisely.
Behaviors that damage your reputation tend to creep up when you’re going through something difficult personally or are feeling burned out.
“The hardest thing about working at a nine-to-five is that you have to be on top of your game for an entire eight hours a day, five days a week,” Kim says. “That’s a lot of time where you are being analyzed and looked at for what you do.”
The solution? Use your PTO wisely. For example, “if you just broke up with your significant other and you feel down and easily agitated, take some time off so you’re not berating others at work. If you haven’t taken a vacation for an extended period of time and are reaching burnout, go on a vacation. If you’re falling behind on your sleep schedule, call out sick, rearrange your habits and get your life back in order.”
Strategically utilizing your time off will allow you to be a more positive presence in the office, which can work wonders for your reputation.
4. Be positive.
On that note, Kim says that one of the simplest things you can do to improve your rep is to smile more — in a genuine way, of course. If you think it’s annoying to be told to smile more when you’re not a naturally smiley person, you’re right. It is. But it also works.
“You wouldn’t believe how far a smile can go, especially in a working environment,” Kim notes. “It’s so easy for people to get burnt out and dread coming into the office. If the culture of the office starts to sway this way, or has always been this way, and you’re smiling and cheery each day, your colleagues and superiors will wonder what you’re doing.”
This invites conversation, which is an excellent opportunity to develop your relationships with colleagues and showcase the projects you’re working on.
“Smiles are also contagious, so if you’re smiling, others will smile and associate happy thoughts with you,” Kim adds.
5. Ask for feedback.
The simplest way to overhaul what others think about you? Ask for their suggestions.
“Think about the last time you were in a meeting,” Kim suggests. "Take a mental look around at all the people in there: The Joker. The Gossiper. The Suck-Up. The True Leader. You see them all. You know how they interact in the office. You sized them up and put a label on them. Guess what? They did the exact same thing to you.”
In other words, you know what their personal brand is — so why not ask them what they think yours is?
Kim suggests the following exercise: Find two stacks of Post-It notes. With the first set, write out as many of your professional and personal qualities as you can think of, including how you’d like to be perceived in the office. Then, pass out the second stack to your colleagues and ask them to write down (honestly) how you’re perceived in the office.
“Compare where you are seen now to where you want to go and you will be able to see what areas you need to work on,” Kim says. “But first, you have to eliminate the core problems to your image” — so any Post-Its bearing negative descriptors should be dealt with first.
Another approach would simply be to write down how you’d like to be seen at work, ask a few trusted colleagues and potentially your manager to sit down and discuss your overall reputation, then do a similar type of comparison to see where you stand and how you can move forward.
6. Create your own personal social proof.
What you do outside the office also has a huge impact on your work rep.
“You don’t want to limit what you do to just what is being done inside your company. You want to showcase what you do outside of your company as well,” Kim says.
In a sense, you want to develop social proof for yourself — that phenomenon when when you see a line outside of a business and you stop to see what’s going on, or when you see one restaurant that’s packed when the other is empty and you’d rather eat in the packed one.
“You’re inclined to move toward the venue that others are validating,” Kim explains. The same concept applies to the workforce. “The more outside accomplishments you achieve, the more attractive you look when it comes time for a promotion.”
If you’re not sure where to start, Kim suggests displaying your knowledge and insights on your social media accounts, content syndication websites, and maybe even your own blog. This allows you to boost your own reputation as well as your company’s, for a mutually beneficial effect that only adds to your appeal.