Work Persona – Perception vs. Reality

Who you are and what you do, are not nearly as relevant or important in the workforce as we think they are. In fact, would your work colleagues (not your friends at work) or boss, be able to describe the real you? Do they know what your top values are? How you spend your free time? What your relationships are like outside of work? What you are interested in or passionate about?

All of those things are your reality. They are pieces that fit together to make who you are, how you make decisions, what motivates and drives you, and so on. They are also the things that make you vulnerable – which we don’t typically value in a corporate work environment.

Work Persona for One, Please.

Instead, we are taught to create “work personas” – and I admit, I am constantly talking to my clients about this. Our work persona is a safe outward version of who we are – one that makes our bosses and colleagues feel comfortable working with us.

To some, that means not rocking the boat. Becoming a “yes man.” Removing all interactions that go beyond surface-level. Going to work, to simply “get work done.” Play nice in the sandbox even if you think everyone around you is a moron.

Your work persona is part of your reality, but not nearly the complete story.

Reality Doesn’t Matter… at Work

I was told the same phrase over and over again by one manager: “It’s not reality that matters, but it’s their perception of you that needs to change.”

And each time I heard it, it was like a stab through the heart. What I delivered, the time and energy and effort I put into the company, my clients’ satisfaction levels (extremely high by the way) – didn’t matter. The things I gave up so that the company could thrive – not important. The various ways I helped others to make their own lives easier – insignificant. All that mattered was what one person THOUGHT they knew about me… from a rumor, from one interaction, from their own insecurities or jealousies, from the story they created about who I am.

Regardless of what I did or how I worked to shape their perception of me, help them see who I was in reality… it didn’t make a difference. My work reality was the perception that others had of me (some good, some bad).

Perception Bridge Theory:

It doesn’t matter what you are doing or how you are delivering. Your boss’s perception of your skills is on one side of the bridge, and your reality of your skills is on the other. What you think, doesn’t matter. You have to find a way to meet his perception and your reality in the middle – or you will continue to be seen as an underperformer, even if that’s not a perception based in reality.

Facts seldom matter in a large corporate environment, the perception of who you are (aka – your reputation), outweighs who you really are.

And here is the crutch of the importance of your work persona. “Appropriateness” aside, that is its own story – what is the value or importance of fully disclosing who you are to an environment that not only does not value it, but can also turn it into a liability?

I know, that sounds cynical and perhaps a bit paranoid. But here’s the truth. It does not matter who you really are when you show up at work. What matters is who they think you are. Sadly, you can influence their story through their actions, but people will create their own story of who you are to help them relate and/or cope.

And that’s a good thing for you. Because while you can continue to try and influence others’ opinions of you and shape their perceptions, their criticisms are not applicable to who you are as a person.

Stop letting others’ perceptions of you at work, impact your value and worth at home. You get to create your reality – don’t get stuck in others’ perception of you. While it’s important to influence that at work, it carries little to no value in your “real life.” Who are not what your boss thinks of you – you are you.