The “I wish I could be someone I’m not” market — known more commonly as self-help — is worth nearly $10 billion in the U.S., which means there are a lot of people out there who are desperately trying to change. Like a lot, a lot: One 2014 study followed its participants’ goals for personality change and found that most people wanted to be more extraverted, agreeable, emotionally stable and open to new experiences. “A whopping 97 percent said they wished they were more conscientious,” reported The Atlantic.
Even if you do succeed in the extremely difficult task of evolving your personality, how do you then make this clear to the people who knew the old you? Say, for example, you were a pushover in high school, and although you’re now brimming with confidence, you find it’s easily dented because those old friends still expect you to be — and treat you like — the same old pushover. What to do?
According to executive coach Joel Garfinkle — whose advice is geared more toward your professional relationships — if you’re trying to change the way your coworkers see you, pay close attention to how your behavior impacts them. “Start by being honest with yourself. Notice how your behavior affects those around you. How do people react to you in meetings? In the coffee room or at lunch? If clients aren’t returning your calls, perhaps your behavior is making them feel pressured or uncomfortable,” Garfinkle writes on his blog.
The idea here is that by being honest with yourself about the way you affect others, you can begin to make behavioral changes, like talking less and listening more. “If you’re the type who usually dominates the conversation in meetings or groups, try keeping absolutely quiet and taking notes for a change,” writes Garfinkle. “If you usually hang back and let others take the spotlight, write down some key points that are relevant to the topic being discussed and speak up.” According to Garfinkle, making these changes will slowly change your colleagues’ perception of you.
“If your boss thinks you’re the meekest participant in meetings, you need to now offer up frequent, thoughtful contributions. ‘You have to recast yourself and perhaps play dramatically against type,’ says Clark. ‘But over time, once people’s perceptions begin to shift, you can migrate back toward the center where it feels more comfortable.’”
While these suggestions seem productive and potentially helpful, clinical psychologist Amy Kim warns me that the only way to really change the way anyone — including your friends and co-workers — perceives your personality is to develop yourself until you don’t care what they think in the first place. “By putting in the work to be a stronger and more confident person, you no longer care about what people think,” says Kim. “So it becomes a moot issue.”
Kim further argues that even temporarily manipulating your personality, per Clark’s suggestion, comes from a precarious place. “Only if you’re insecure do you feel like you need to manipulate yourself so [that] people’s perception of you is manipulated,” says Kim. “It comes from an insecure position.”
Still, Kim understands the growing issue of needing to curate how other people see you. “It’s heightened with millennials and social media,” she says. “With social media there’s more focus on one’s image than ever before.” As a result, Kim says that people are becoming more self-conscious about how they appear to other people.
Which makes sense: Under a deluge of social media influencers ostensibly living their best lives and doing it all for the Gram, who among us isn’t pretending to be someone they’re not?