Each of us has strengths and responses that we have come to rely on in difficult situations. When we get under stress, we start drawing on them, and often without realizing it, we behave a bit differently than usual. You likely have your own pattern of responding to pressure. The problem is that overusing a strength can backfire, and when it does, it can leave negative marks on your reputation, and in turn, your future.
When you notice someone behaving in a way that leaves a negative impression on you, chances are that they were tired, stressed or not self-monitoring in that moment. (At least if they are, in general, nice people.) Such perceptions influence not only the opinions of people who were directly involved, but also those of others who hear about it, and thus the overall reputation.
How Much Does Reputation Matter?
Obviously, reputation is important. When someone does not know us directly, what they hear from other people is the only thing they can go by. More than that though, reputation has a powerful influence even in situations where people have direct experience or knowledge about us.
In one study, participants were deciding whether to give money to another player in the hope of receiving back even more (if the other side reciprocated). In some rounds, they were given gossip about the other player from an observer who watched that player in previous rounds. As you’d expect, the participants were much more likely to give money if they were told the other person is generous or collaborative.
An interesting thing happened when the participants were given direct visibility into the other player’s previous decision, and then also received the gossip. Even though they knew the gossip was formed by an observer based on the same behavior they could see, almost half the participants changed their minds, and they tended to follow the gossip in 79% of the cases.1
This illustrates the powerful influence that reputation has even on people who can see how we are performing.
Your Dark Side
So we’ve seen that people often put more weight on reputation than facts, and that it’s fairly easy to notice negative changes in someone’s behavior. But what about us? What is the dark side that surfaces when it is me who is under pressure?
That is a tough one: When we get distracted, pressured or tired to a point that it starts influencing how we behave, we will almost certainly not have the capacity to notice.
Interestingly, the risk of potentially problematic responses to stress can be measured with a high degree of accuracy and reliability through specialized assessments. Hogan Development Survey is a tool that I offer and recommend to people who want to gain insight into their dark side of possible negative observable behaviors. Hogan refers to these behaviors as “derailers,” and measures them along eleven distinct categories.
The Positive of Knowing the Negatives
Gaining an awareness of this “dark side” of your personality is, in itself, a critical step towards keeping your strengths from crossing the boundary into behaviors that could be perceived negatively by others, so you can protect your reputation.
In this case, it’s not “the terror of knowing what the world is about,” (as Mercury and Bowie sing) but the courage for knowing who we are under pressure, and how to work with it.
Given the outsized influence of your reputation with your team, your peers, and managers, such self-awareness is an excellent starting point for taking your behavior and your reputation in the direction you desire.
Sommerfeld, R. D., Krambeck, H.-J., Semmann, D., & Milinski, M. (2007). Gossip as an alternative for direct observation in games of indirect reciprocity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(44), 17435–17440. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0704598104 ↩