How to Change the Perceptions Others Have of You

Perception vs. Reality

There’s always a lag between when a leader makes a behavioral change and when others perceive the change. In fact, in my last post I made the case that it’s harder for a leader to change others’ perceptions than it is for the leader to change their behavior.


Maybe you’ve experienced this in your personal life when you had a conflict with a friend or spouse and he brought up something that happened in the distant past, even though you’ve worked hard to change.


Or perhaps in the workplace, you were hired into a specific role and have been promoted, but others still see you in the previous role.


The more history, first impressions and time you spend with people, the more their perceptions of you solidify. They, in fact, create a label for who you are. Oftentimes that label isn’t created intentionally or consciously. Even teams and departments have labels. We think about human resources in a certain way. We might have preconceived notions about a typical engineer. It’s not uncommon to have reactions to a salesperson, even before interacting with them!


In our executive coaching work, we often come across leaders who struggle with perceptions across two very important dimensions—results and relationships. My books Ignite! The 4 Essential Rules for Emerging Leaders and Unite! The 4 Mindset Shifts for Senior Leaders show how these two dimensions play out in different leadership levels. When a leader is overly focused on results without enough emphasis on relationships, it’s not uncommon for the leader to be perceived as pushy, impatient and arrogant. When a leader overuses their strength of relationships and doesn’t emphasize results enough, they can be perceived as passive, soft-spoken and withdrawn.


How do you overcome those two different sets of perceptions?


The 6-step Process


In my last post, I outlined a 6-step process to change others’ perception of you, and, in turn, change your reputation. The process included:

  1. Knowing your current label
  2. Creating your ideal label
  3. Identifying one behavior to change
  4. Going public with your plan and enrolling supporters
  5. Following up consistently
  6. Measuring and repeating the process

Without employing these critical steps, it’s unlikely that others will notice that you’ve made a change.


Changing Perceptions When Overly Results Oriented


If you are a leader who falls on the overly results-oriented end of the spectrum, here are a few ideas to help you overcome the pushy, impatient and arrogant reputation you might have developed.

  • Listen more and talk less. Sounds simple, but it isn’t easy to implement. Your challenge is to allow for others to have space for input and to actually listen and seek to understand their perspectives.
  • Hold space for your vision and that of others. Even though you’ve been there, done that and know your way will work, great leaders have the ability to maintain their vision while also holding up and considering multiple other visions.
  • Make connections with people.  Even though you may lean on efficiency and results, focus more of your time building relationships with others before you need something from them. For example, if arrive early at a company all-hands meeting, instead of burying your head in work, shut your laptop, walk around and shake some hands. Another idea is to find time each day to say hello to people without an agenda. Or perhaps you could stop looking at your phone as you’re walking between meetings. Instead keep your head up, make eye contact, smile and engage with others. You get the point.

Changing Perceptions When Overly Relationships Oriented


If you are a leader who falls on the overly relationship-oriented end of the spectrum, here are a few ideas to help you overcome the withdrawn, soft-spoken, and passive reputation you may currently have.

  • Be prepared for meetings. When you prepare ahead of time, you will have processed information in advance and be more likely to speak up during a conversation. This will allow you to jump in faster among your already fast-paced colleagues who more easily take up air space.
  • Talk about results. Understand the ultimate outcome and point of the conversation and talk about that, instead of trying to outline every detail first. People will pay more attention and you’ll be more concise in your communication.
  • Speak up…literally. More dominant people often make judgments about others’ competence based on how confident the other person appears. If you project your voice (not just volume, but power), others will perceive you as more confident. So, sit up straight, project and fake it until you make it.

Stakeholder Centered Coaching: Maximizing Your Impact as a Coach


I’m very proud to say that much of this methodology can be found in a new book I just co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith, the New York Times best-selling author and Leadership 50 Thinker. The book is Stakeholder Centered Coaching: Maximizing Your Impact as a Coach. It’s a quick read in an actionable and fun format and will help you make personal change that lasts. The Kindle version will be available for free on May 15, 2018.


So, where do you go from here?


Start with some of the ideas I outlined above. And don’t forget about the 6-step process I outlined in my last post.

If you want more help in accelerating behavioral AND perception change, perhaps a leadership or executive coach is a good fit for you. Send us an email at to tell us more about what you need.