Can You Read Your Own Label?

How do you see yourself?  As human beings, we tend to have a view of ourselves that is probably different than others see us.  As Shakespeare said, “Oh, would some Power give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us!” It is said that perception is reality, so the way others perceive us is reality – or at least the reality that we need to accept.

Our self-reality is the picture we have of ourselves in our head.  It is summed up in a great little saying, “You can’t read the label from inside the jar.”  We are in our own bubble, living in our head – inside the jar – so we can’t see ourselves as others do.

So what? We are living our life, trying to be the best we can be.  If others can’t see it, is that our problem?  Yes, it is.  Because other’s perceptions of us affect every area of our life – from our career to family to friends.  There is another saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”  When we are too close to a situation we lose perspective.  Other’s perception is reality because they can read the label on our jar.

At the beginning of our coaching engagement, I take my client through some self assessments, so that they can begin to see themselves as others see them.  The most eye-opening is a 360 degree assessment, with feedback from 10 to 15 of the client’s peers, supervisors, and staff.  This is where there are often surprises for the client.  The feedback about the client’s perceived strengths and weaknesses from this group  is usually consistent.  Those co-workers all read me the label they see on the client’s jar – and they all pretty much read it the same way.  When this information is shared with the client, he/she is often surprised.  They don’t recognize these perceived weaknesses or strengths as others do.  This gap in the way they see themselves versus the way others see them is a topic we then can explore in the coaching sessions.

How can we make sure we are reading our own jar labels? One way is to work on our own emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence is a term coined in 1995 in a book by psychologist Daniel Goleman.  It’s defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”  I think of emotional intelligence as what our parents called being mature – understanding and exercising self control in our own emotions and in our relationships with others.

To succeed in our relationships, we can’t blindly disregard how we come across.  We need to make efforts to see how we are viewed and make adjustments when there is a gap with how we want to be seen.

So, get out of your bubble, away from that forest and take a look at your jar label.

Shakespeare will approve.


Lee Ann Pond is the founder of Engaging Leadership, which provides training and support for business leaders, with a focus on employee engagement.  She has an MBA, 15 years “C” suite experience in finance and HR, and is a certified executive coach.