“How can we know what other people think about us?”
I gave an answer to this question asked on Quora.
TL;DR: If I focus on actionable behaviors that reflect my values, what other people think about me is really none of my business unless I need to correct something about what I am doing.
A friend gave me wise council about a problem I had about what other people thought about me. In this instance, my specific problem was in the context of my new position with a software company in role that required working with people who, frankly, were my superior in every way with regards to programming, industry knowledge and architectural mastery. I was intimidated and afraid of failing.
I had almost convinced myself that I would probably be summarily dismissed and thought incompetent by virtue of simply not having the ‘pedigree’ the people working in this engineering group had. As hires go, I was atypical to the group as far as demographics.
So, struggling against my own doubt and insecurity, I sought the advice of my friend and he asked me to think about the following and then apply what it informed me as to this concern of mine.
His advice was something like this:
There are, if you will, four kinds of people that you will meet.
People who will like you for the wrong reasons;People who will like you for the right reasons;
People who will dislike you for the wrong reasons; andPeople who will dislike you for the right reasons.
Of these groups, there is only one that you should be rightly concerned about what they think of you.
What the other groups of people think are either beyond the scope of your influence or otherwise not any of your business.
People who like you, like you for reasons, right or wrong, but because they have determined to like you, what they think about you takes care of itself.
People who dislike you for reasons that are wrong (i.e. arbitrary, irrational, prejudicial) do not share similar values with you, and therefore whatever they think about you will always be colored by those values and thus, will not have any worth in your knowing what they are. In other words, knowing what they think doesn’t add any value to your benefit.
However, the last group of people, those that dislike you for the right reasons, are those whose thinking should legitimately concern you.
Because of all of these people, those that dislike you for reasons that you believe are justified are the only people who provide you the opportunity to recognize and change what it is you actually should change.
What anyone thinks about us, in general, is only our business when we are invited to know because they are shared with us directly, or we become a stakeholder in someone else’s thoughts about us as a result of our being accountable to what is valued.
For what it’s worth, I did learn something that I would apply to the concerns I had.
In effect, it established the general attitude I take to new work projects and people.
This includes foremost a respect for the role each person contributes, the humility to recognize what I do and do not know and the courage to admit and correct my own limitations and errors.
How this translates personally from my own values is most evident as principles I apply about the value of a person’s time and one that considers how my decisions affect those working downstream of what I am doing.
I also learned from working with brilliant and expertly skilled people, that often the best contribution I will make is making it incumbent upon myself to be cognizant of not impeding other’s progress by inefficient use of time or being a source of obstacles in other people’s path.
No one should have to trip over what I am doing in order get shit done. I think this was why my colleagues at the new job liked me, despite whatever they thought about my proletarian education, MENSA member status, or taste in shoes.
And, this is, pretty much, the best I can hope to achieve with regards to what others may think.
Focus on addressing operant behaviors with regards to how I engage with others and if it’s any of my business, consider the subjective things (like personal opinions, constructs and preferences) if it adds value.