What People Think of You

What do people think of you? What affects what people think of you? I’m realizing that if you focus on what people think of you this moment, you usually lose track of what they’re going to think of you next month.

I’m interning at a large tech company for the first time (previous max was a 22-person startup) and I’ve been having some trouble navigating how to ask questions and get things done in the rather complicated system. Today, in my 1-on-1 meeting with my manager, we were talking about asking others for help, which he pointed out is really important in a large organization with relatively little documentation. I commented that I was worried that people would feel like I was asking them to solve all of my problems—that they might judge me for doing so. I described one part of this problem using this analogy:

Say I’m trying to make myself a sandwich, and I don’t even know where the bread is kept. So I ask you, “where’s the bread?” You indicate the appropriate cupboard. Then I get distracted for half an hour, initially trying to choose a kind of bread but then reading the ingredients… after which I find the knife and realize it’s totally dull and won’t slice the bread (the next step).

At this point I feel really apprehensive about asking you for help again, because I feel like you’ll notice how I haven’t really accomplished anything for awhile (with software development, this can be more on the order of hours and days) and that I’m now asking you for help with something that’s basically a next step to the last thing I asked about. Or that could be expected to follow within 2 minutes.

“Don’t worry about what people think of you,” my manager responded, to this story and to other concerns about pestering people, “think about the results.” In other words, if you’re hungry, do what it takes to get that sandwich made. Then it dawned on me that by trying to avoid having people think negatively toward me in the short term by asking too many questions, I was ultimately sacrificing their long-term opinion of me by reducing what I was able to accomplish.

When I’m finishing my internship, I’d much rather have a couple of people think, “Oh yeah, Malcolm was great, though he asked a lot of questions,” than have everyone think, “Malcolm just kind of went off on his own and barely accomplished anything”. Which is sillifying to realize, because I haven’t been behaving with that in mind. Well, it’s hard to change what you don’t even notice, so this is a start.

I wrote the bulk of the above this afternoon in an email to myself (something I do with surprising regularity) and then thought I’d share it on my blog, for a few reasons, notably that it’s a great example of conflicting wants. There’s a deeper shift happening here too, which is the realization of how my concern over my own image is itself getting in the way of both image and goals, therein being quite unproductive. But for now it seems easier to shift on the level of behaviour->values, achieving them in the short term rather than trying to change my values overnight.

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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