Early in my career, I had no clue that at least one of my colleagues perceived me very differently than the warm, caring and friendly colleague I considered myself to be. Out of the blue, and not part of a performance review, a colleague shared that I gave the impression of being an “ice maiden.”
Shocked by his feedback, and still trying to reconcile the vast difference between his perception and the one in my head, I managed to ask for more details about how I created that perception. My colleague shared “you come and go, in and out of your office, not stopping to chat, coming by when you need to share something or get something.”
In my view at the time, his description lined up with my idea of the “ultimate professional”. No fuss, no small talk and not wasting others’ time. Down to business and the person I thought I needed to be.
My behavior reflected my desire to be respected as a professional and to be efficient at getting things done. I failed to recognize that my colleague had different expectations of those he worked with. And they were expectations, once known, that I was more than happy to meet. Because I am a warm, caring and friendly person and that is just as important as delivering results.
Missing the Mark
So how do we get so off-track in how we are perceived by others?
With the passage of time and greater experience, I’ve come to realize several things that contributed to the “ice maiden” perception.
First, simply youth. As a young professional with great ambition, I cultivated a strong image of professionalism. I wanted to be seen as more mature and experienced than my years might suggest. I was candid and matter-of-fact about the area I oversaw and was focused on delivering results. See why below.
Second, stress. I oversaw daily trading and the investing of cash flows, making sure we did not have too much cash on hand in each day, or too little. Cash flow needs varied daily and often changed intraday, requiring continual recalculation. All money moves had to be completed by 3 p.m. each day. After that, reports were prepared for the accounting system, which was run by my colleague who had offered the image-shattering feedback.
Running on Fumes
What I did not know then but was on my way to discovering is that investing and prudent deployment of resources, cash in this case, is a strong interest of mine. However, the environment that I operated in did not meet my needs; the need of space for reflection and to consider various options.
So my colleague got the worst of me, after 3 p.m. The me after a day of action in an environment that did not suit my nature. The me that was stressed. Worried – did I catch all the cash flow changes? Anxious – did I invest too little or too much? Fatigued – from decision, after decision without time for reflection. There was no gas in the tank to ask about his day, and no thought of stopping by during the day to share how the trades were looking.
Yes, his feedback did impact my behavior near-term. I made a focused effort to engage more with him and my other colleagues. To use my conversations with them as a small break from the stress. But not for long…trades still had to get done.
Implementing Real Change
How did this impact me long-term? Soon after receiving this feedback, my life changed in other significant ways. I got married and within 6 months we were relocated to Tokyo, Japan. The move, and a temporary lack of employment, provided an opportunity to do real soul searching about work and to discover the type of work and the environment that suited my true nature. The feedback my colleague provided helped me realize that daily trading and transactions were not the best environment for me. The soul searching, accomplished with the help of the book What Color is My Parachute revealed my desire to support others to realize their goals.
The first part of that journey was as a financial advisor, and now as a professional coach to executives and their teams! You can learn more about my journey from “ice maiden” to coach on this podcast with Gary Nowak on Coffee House Coaching.
What do Your Stress Behaviors Reveal?
Thanks to others who are passionate about helping us understand ourselves, we have amazing tools like the Birkman Assessment that allow us to do so more quickly and clearly. Working with a coach can put you on a path to work in the field and the environment best suited to your true nature. Learn more here Experience Coaching-Powered By ICF.