What Do People Say When You Aren’t in the Room?

Recently, I was in a meeting where I mentioned that we’d need to recruit someone to help test. When I mentioned a particular colleague’s name, everyone’s faces lit up; she’d be the perfect person to help on this effort! This reminded me of something that is so simple but yet alludes many when it comes to work: if half the battle is showing up, the other half is how you show up.

But what exactly does that mean?

If you know me, you’ll know I’m not a fan of being performative or inauthentic. And work is no exception to that. However, when it comes to how we show up in spaces where we MUST collaborate with others (as work typically is), I try to keep the following wise words in mind:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

And, when I think about my own experience as an individual contributor, teammate, and now leader of teams, this really resonates. I remember the colleague who realized I wasn’t getting onboarded correctly and helped me feel less alone. I remember the boss who tried to make everyone feel small. I remember the managers who really took interest in my career and made me feel unstuck.

I love this advice because it’s very easy to individualize and make it authentic to you. It also is a small reminder that relationships make the world go ’round. While I don’t recommend thinking of connections in a transactional way, the truth of the matter is when folks walk away from an interaction with you feeling good, they’ll look kindly on future interactions.

To that end, I’ll leave you with another anecdote. On a separate occasion, I was in a room with many colleagues — all of them, at the time, were more tenured than me with superstar trajectories — and a particular relatively junior co-worker’s name was uttered. Everyone in the room physically responded with knowing glances and expressions of exasperation. To say everyone in the room knew this person was difficult to work with would be an understatement. It’s very difficult to move around within an organization (or an industry for that matter!) when your reputation precedes you, and not for the better.

So what do people say about you when you aren’t in the room? Consider this question as you hone and refine your personal brand — a topic for another day!

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