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Do you know how you're being perceived?

I didn’t.

In fact, the terror of receiving any kind of “feedback” with any slightly critical elements stopped me seeking it. One of the not-so-fun things about how I experience ADHD, is something called “Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria”, which effectively means that any real or perceived criticism or rejection actually rocks me to the core. It physically hurts. So how did I protect myself from this? I stopped asking for feedback.

Way back when I was in ‘corporate life’, I emailed all my stakeholders asking them what I should start, stop and continue doing. I can’t remember the specifics, but I remember receiving some really valuable information from this exercise and equipped with this information I was able to go off and consider my own learning. It also gave me a boost - on the whole I was doing well and delivering what was needed. It was really satisfying to share these comments with my manager. Mark was a boss who didn't manage me too closely, someone who trusted me and encouraged me to do things my way - so sharing this feedback with him was delightful.

So, 5 years into working for myself, there’s not the annual appraisal cycle or regular feedback from your boss, unless you sit yourself down and have that talk. And it is too easy to fall into the trap of not asking for feedback.

One major thing to note here when we are talking about feedback is that it’s so important to only seek feedback from people who you would go to for advice. I receive “feedback” daily from society, media, social media etc, about how women ‘should’ behave. Does some random mansplaining idiot on twitter’s opinion of me count? Oh hell no.

Earlier this year I was on an absolutely wonderful 4 day coaching course. For one of the exercises we had to talk on any subject for 2 minutes with a partner. My partner’s job was to listen to what was being said, and what was not being said - the subtext to my talk. My partner told me that I was clearly uncomfortable with this exercise. I came across as hesitant and insecure. I didn't realise my own power, and that I had the power to do what I wanted to do.

Another exercise that we did… groups of 5 got together and we all blurted out things we appreciated in each other. When it rolled round to my turn, I received these words - funny, attentive, at peace, calming, curious, creative, caring, explorer, strong, out of the box thinker, friendly, playful, vulnerable, positive, laughing, connector.

The second step to this was to give me a role to play, so I could use this energy in our next coaching practice. The words I received - more skinny bitch, more wild, sharpness, ‘catwoman’, more disruptive, more naughty, more carefree, more selfish. I then was given a role - a Dominatrix - to play with in my next coaching practice. Which was a lot of fun.

As women, we are constantly monitoring ourselves to attempt to achieve a balance of likeability and credibility. To be accepted we feel we need to come across as both. What upset me about the feedback that I received on the appreciation exercise is that I was ticking all the boxes on the likeability side of the scale, but nothing was ticked on the credibility side of the scale. I was not being perceived as being credible, intelligent, wise, competent. Gulp. I spend my life learning, improving, reading, getting more and more qualifications. And this is not being translated into how people see me. That’s bloody powerful feedback.

Once I got over the shock of this recognition and went through the process of feeling hurt for a little bit, my next action was to sprinkle on a little bit of self-compassion and get curious about what is happening. Why do I always not radiate credibility? Maybe it’s because I use humour as a defence mechanism? I deliver something powerful, then totally undermine myself with a nervous giggle. Or I use undermining words when I’m speaking.

I took myself off to attend a public speaking for women workshop with Alex Barker, the Captain of Be More Pirate and took up her offer of some one-to-one support. Her feedback and recommendation about how to improve was invaluable and I put some of the learning into my next workshop.

And the next thing I did was to ask someone to give me feedback on this workshop. Someone who trains people in online delivery and communication. And asked him for his feedback. He was honest and highlighted some more of my ‘blind spots’. Which is excellent information, which I appreciated.

I’ve also learned something really key about me doing these exercises. That I am so uncomfortable when I am not in ‘control’. If I am leading something - a workshop, training etc I feel comfortable. When I am participating in something, or if I’m being led through an experience, not so much. This is a useful realisation that I can do something with.

I now think of this process as me asking my corporate stakeholders what I should start, stop and continue doing. Re-learning the ability to identify the people I trust to tell me the truth and actually listen to them, ask for more examples - and then do something about it.

This is how we grow as humans. And professionals.

Who do you trust to ask for feedback about how you’re being perceived? What are you going to do with this information?

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