What You Can Learn From Knowing How Other People See You

Screen shot 2013-06-04 at 8.57.09 AMIn last week’s post, I suggested an exercise to develop a word portrait of yourself as seen through the eyes of your friends.

All you had to do was to invite five friends to send you a quick list of six words that come to their mind when they think about you.

I promised I’d let you know my results from this little exercise. So here goes–though I must confess that sharing it makes me feel exposed.

Seeing Myself Through the Eyes of Others

I found myself a bit anxious as the little word came in. What would people pick out to say about me? I knew that the words weren’t likely to be negative. I had asked friends, after all. And even if they might think of some negative words, they’d be unlikely to send me a list of words describing my worst characteristics.

I wondered if the way people described me would match or come close to the image I have of myself.

As the words came in, I made a list — an Andrea Kihlstedt word cloud. And when my list was complete, I looked at it for a while trying to make sense of what it told me about myself.  And once I got over the discomfort of looking at myself in the word-mirror, it told me lots.

Here’s my list. And I must confess that I mostly recognize myself.

  1. Optimistic, generous, productive, casual, dogged, helpful
  2. Strong, decisive, opinionated, direct, clear, confident
  3. Smart, edgy, take-no-prisoners, fun, authentic
  4. Brilliant, creative, dauntless, warm, independent, vital
  5. Entrepreneurial, effervescent, animated, fun, friend, risk taker
  6. Friend, generous, energetic, community builder, big thinker, inquisitive

I bolded the words that jumped out at me from each string. Dogged, opinionated, take-no-prisoners, dauntless, risk taker and big thinker.

And then I noted the words that weren’t there anywhere–kind, patient, thoughtful. Those are characteristics I would love to have but that didn’t make it to my lists.

Finally, I compared the words I had collected with the list I had made: cheerful, fun-loving, quick, energetic, impatient and impulsive.

What emerged was a picture me in a fuller, more positive and more powerful form than I ever would have described myself. Yes, it makes me a bit uncomfortable to read those glowing words, but I’d like to inhabit the Andrea that my friends reflected back to me more fully. That’s a good goal.

Three Lessons You Can Learn From Your Word Portrait Exercise

What can you learn from this little exercise?

1. Your friends see your strengths. They’ll tell you what they are if you ask them.

Just ask them to describe you in six words, and they’ll list your strengths. Yay!

2. It’s good to take stock now and again of how others see you.

While you’re likely to recognize yourself generally in the words others use, you will also see some strengths and patterns you hadn’t been aware of.

3. The words that are missing matter too.

For me,  I keep striving to be kinder. I tend toward doing and accomplishing rather than being kind. Perhaps if I keep working on it, kindness will work its way into my word portrait one day.

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Ask Your Friends for a 6-Word List Describing You

If you haven’t done this yet, don’t let this little exercise go by without trying it. It’s a great way to take stock of your strengths and see yourself the way your friends see you.

Share some of the words you get back in the comments below.


  • Shanon Solava-Reid

    I love it! Great exercise.