By Troy Headrick
A couple of weeks ago I had this really jarring experience. I watched a video of myself leading a workshop on critical thinking. (I am the director of a writing center at a community college in San Antonio, Texas, and often do all manner of presentations for a wide range of audiences.) I call the experience “jarring” because I’ve long hated to listen to my recorded voice or watch myself on video. It’s rare that I see myself from the sort of distance that the recording showed me from. Often, when I look at myself, it’s in a mirror and thus I see myself through my eyes and from my point of view. So, unlike seeing myself in the mirror, watching myself on video is, I suppose, a fairly good depiction of what others see when they look at me through their eyes and from a distance.
Watching that video, those two weeks ago, was the inspiration for this blog. And before I go any further in my writing, I want to say, up front, that this is a speculative piece. As soon as I started it, I realized I didn’t really know what I wanted to say. That’s because I have more questions than answers when I think about who I really am, how others see me, and how their perceptions of the sort of person I am might differ from how I see myself.
Some years ago, I decided that I wanted to change how my students saw me in the classroom. That decision came after I realized that it was important for me to begin viewing those studying under me as human beings first and as students second—a major paradigm shift in my thinking. I also wanted to make my classroom a place where people could speak honestly and share their thoughts openly. To create such an environment, I would have to demonstrate that I was interested in them as people and show I was willing to be honest and open myself. That’s because we get from others what we give to them.
This was me trying to create a persona so that students would see a certain kind of Troy standing up in front of them and interact with him in the way I desired. But all this raises other questions. Can authenticity survive in a world where we have to interact with others and are constantly playing roles during these interactions because we want to create a desired image? If we are unsure of how others see us, but we need (or want) people to perceive us a certain way, is there any effective method that can be used to determine how successful we are in achieving our aim? In other words, how can we be sure that others are seeing us in the way we want them to? Wouldn’t we have to “step outside ourselves” to get to the truth of how others perceive us? Doesn’t this require that we see ourselves perfectly objectively? Does such objectivity even exist?
Some of these questions are both asked and answered in “Seeing Yourself as Others See You” by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback and published in the Harvard Business Review. Hill and Kent argue that we can learn how others see us by establishing trust and openness among those we associate with. (If you’re interested in this topic, I suggest that you read the whole piece because I’m only going to touch upon one key point discussed by the writers.) The authors suggest that we can get a clear understanding of how others see us by building a “network of people” who will give “candid feedback” about how we’re coming across to others. (Like my discussion earlier, Hill and Kent discuss this whole issue in the context of the workplace and the roles one has to play while on the job.)
I’ve come to the end of the blog but realize I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic. What thoughts do you have about all this? How can we be sure that others are seeing us in ways we want them to? Or, perhaps more importantly, does it matter what people think of us? Shouldn’t we really be prizing authenticity over everything else?
Thanks for reading and I await your responses.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.