How much time do you spend each day wondering what someone else thinks about you?
Not about your work, but about you?
You want to do work that is successful, effective, and meaningful. So it follows that it is important that you understand what your customers and colleagues need, want, and use. You want to make certain that your work meets their needs and expectations. Spending time understanding what your stakeholders think about your work can lead you to a better product, a more meaningful result, and a more successful outcome.
Does it then follow that time spend wondering what people think about you will make you more effective, more successful, and your life more meaningful?
You can ascertain what your stakeholders’ thoughts are by asking them; you can understand their needs by observing their work, and conducting research. But how do you know what they think of you? I guess you could ask them, but would they want to answer honestly? The fact is, if you asked me, I wouldn’t even know how to respond.
The secret is, when we imaging what others think of us, we are projecting our deepest issues onto others. These “others” become surrogates for our fears, our insecurities, and our perceived limitations. It’s not surprising that the public speaking is the most reported fear people have. When I work with people wanting to improve their speaking, I ask about what they fear. It mostly comes down to feeling that they will be judged inadequate, not expert enough, or not interesting enough. They assume everyone is judging them against an imagined “ideal speaker”. But the truth is, people in the audience have a vested interested in having you be a successful speaker. They are rooting for you. They want you to do well, and will actually confer expert status on you just for getting up to speak!
Understanding what the audience wants from the presentation will make you a more successful speaker, while imagining what the audience members think of you, actually makes you a less successful speaker, not a more successful one. This is true in so many areas of life.
Consider imposter syndrome. “If people really knew me, they wouldn’t give me this job, wouldn’t respect my opinion, wouldn’t buy my product”. Have you ever felt the pull of imposter syndrome at some time in your career? It’s yet another example of how much energy we lose worrying about what others think of us. Have you ever considered the math? Try to add up how much time and energy it would take for everyone you know to spend time considering all abilities and opinions of everyone they know? No one would ever get anything done! How much time do you spend thinking how incompetent and unworthy all of your colleagues are? Not very much, I hope.
As hard as it is to remember, know this. All the negative thoughts you imagine are coming from others, are just reflection of your own insecurities. Take action anyway – you are worthy, you are talented, and you will do great work. And remember, the person sitting next to you? Be kind – they are probably busy worrying what you think of them.