The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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Your Actions Speak Much Louder

Say What You Will:
Your Actions Speak Much Louder

"Who you are speaks so loudly 
I can't hear what you're saying."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

I had an unexpected call from a client the other night: "Is this the crisis hotline?" And so the story began. Like every drama, the underlying plot of this story was all too common. The villain acted with deceit and disrespect, hiding behind the pretense of doing the right thing. The victim in the story (my client) was blindsided and put in a very difficult situation. As with most dramas, the crisis here was averted. But a dark shadow of distrust was cast on an important relationship. 

As I hung up the phone that night, I couldn't help but think about how often this story is played out, in offices all over the world. Sometimes there's more drama, sometimes less. The plot, though, is all too familiar:
When we say one thing, but our actions say entirely another thing... it's a huge disappointment to anyone who's paying attention. Why? Because when all is said and done, it doesn't matter so much what was said. It matters what was done
We all like to think that we "say what we mean and mean what we say." We want to believe that we "walk the talk" and "put our money where our mouth is." But do we really? It's easy to judge others when they fall short in this area. It's much harder to see our own failures. Even subtle misses count, and they add up to trouble over time if we don't catch ourselves. We may view the gap others have between their character, words, and actions as a more significant gap than ours. Others may, of course, view it in exactly the opposite way.

Today, I share a quick way to evaluate how well you align your character, words, and actions. Three minutes. Three simple exercises. And an opportunity to boost your integrity at work. It's a speed round. Are you ready?
If our actions tell the story of who we are - and they do - what story are they telling?

Keeping It Real

There's no question that what we say and do in the workplace impacts how others perceive us. It's easy to dismiss our role and believe that other people will form whatever opinions they want. But we influence others' opinions, good or bad. Here's how.
  1. Our character sets the tone - what we stand for. 
  2. Our words create expectations - what we intend. 
  3. Our actions tell the story - who we really are. 
We gain the respect of others to the extent that these three things line up in a positive and productive way. This is the foundation of our integrity. This is the key to positive perception.

The three exercises below help you identify how well your actions reflect your words and character. I've used this exercise multiple times for myself and with clients. It offers great insights.

Exercise #1.  
How do you want your character to be perceived?

We start by focusing on how you want to be perceived by others. What traits do you need to demonstrate to "earn" the perception you want? This is subjective, of course. Your opinions may be different from everyone else's. Be thoughtful about what matters most to you about how you're perceived. This is your character. Consider the traits you might need to demonstrate to be perceived as a high-performing employee. A supportive co-worker. A person of influence. An effective leader. Do this for any role you play at work (or at home).
Keep It Real:
Be honest with yourself about how well you embody the traits that matter most to you. How do you perceive yourself today? How do you think others perceive you? How well does today's reality align with how you want to be perceived?
Give yourself just one minute to ponder this.

Exercise #2.  
How well do your words reflect your character?

Think about how you interact with others and how you "present" yourself to the world. Consider what expectation you set with others when you talk about yourself, or discuss your beliefs, intentions, and achievements. Think not only about what you say, but also how you say it.
Keep It Real
Compare how you want to be perceived (from #1 above) - with how you present yourself to others.  Does what you say and how you say it support the perception you want others to have? Do you feel authentic in what you say, at least most of the time? Are you consistent with different groups of people or do you change it up significantly based on who you're with? (Hint: It's better to be consistent.)
Give yourself just one minute to ponder this.

Exercise #3.  
Do your actions deliver on the promise of your words and character?

So now you know how you want to be perceived and how you present yourself to others. This is where it gets hard. If our actions tell the story of who we are - and they do - what story are they telling? Unfortunately, it's not just the big stuff that counts. The little things you do matter as much (and sometimes more) as your more visible actions. Our actions when no one is looking are possibly the greatest marker of our character.
Keep It Real:
Think about your behavior at work. Do your decisions and choices line up to the perception you want others to have of you? Do you consistently demonstrate the character traits that matter to you in your interactions with others? Do the actions you take have integrity relative to what you say? Do other people trust what you say, believing you'll follow through with action? What proof do you have to support or challenge that belief?  
Give yourself just one minute to ponder this.

At the end of this three minute exercise, no one has all the answers. Hopefully, you have a greater awareness and general sense of how well you align who you are, what you say, and what you do. The intention of this exercise is to help you close the gap and be as tightly aligned on all three fronts as possible.

It's not as easy as we'd like it to be in the workplace. Constant pressure, competing priorities and the mix of personalities makes it very hard to stay aligned. Know that any effort you put forth is well spent and focused attention almost always brings greater alignment.

Bottom Line

Our actions speak louder than our words in the workplace. People absolutely want to hear us say the right things. What they want even more - is for us to do the right things. Consistency counts when it comes to who we are, what we say, and what we do. The more these three things align in a positive and productive way, the better we're perceived and the better we perform.

We may want to believe that it doesn't matter what others think. It does. If we want to be successful and satisfied in our careers over time, we need to be trusted, admired, and supported. That's not possible if our character and words tell a different story about who we are than our actions.

We don't have to be villains in someone else's story to have a gap between our words and our actions. It hurts a little to dig in, but consider these examples before we wrap up.
As a co-worker, we can say that we support our team. But if we don't actively help others when we know they need it (even if they don't know they need it), we don't really support the team. We show active support or we don't. It isn't enough to say it.
As an employee, we can say that we value our clients. But if we don't deliver our best work every time and treat individuals with respect, we don't really value them. If we talk about clients like they're idiots or we do just enough to make them go away and bother us another day, we don't show value and appreciation. 
As a leader, we can say that we want our employees to be happy and productive. But if we don't listen to what they say they want and need, we don't really care. We can decide instead to inspect, control and force compliance. But we can't pretend we care.  
The natural inclination is to object to the harsh reality of those statements and others like them. The truth is that we either translate our word to action, or we don't. It's a sliding scale to be sure, but if we're honest with ourselves, we'll see opportunities to gain better alignment between our character, our words, and our actions. We'll never get it 100% right. No one does. This goal, as with many things, is more about intention and effort than perfection.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying: "Who you are speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying." Say what you will. Your actions speak much louder. Be sure your actions tell the story you want told.

More soon,