What do people say about you behind your back?

In interviews, I don’t ask people what their weaknesses are. I always ask: “What do people say about you behind your back?” Every single time, the person has told me they’d never been asked that before.

It creates an excellent conversation, and I tell them what people say about me. I think you always know. If not, you should. Self-awareness is a beautiful thing. But just because it’s said behind your back, doesn’t make it a bad thing.

For years, my answer was: “People call me a mama bear around here. I’m very protective of my teams and not everyone likes that.” I would often share that to get the interviewee comfortable and to demonstrate the kind of scenarios they might want to share to answer my unconventional question.

The reason for my answer then was this: I had four teams reporting into me and they worked horizontally across the organization, touching a lot of clients and a very high number of colleagues. They were accountable to many more people during the course of their days than just me, so, there were a lot of opinions and different experiences with each individual throughout the company. I did defend my team. Maybe it was a lot, or maybe only when it was necessary, which very well could have seemed like a lot.

If I weren’t careful, it would have been easy for any one person to have too much sway on how someone on my team was perceived, and when anyone is viewed through the lens of a single person, it can be dangerous.

When people emailed or came to see me with a complaint or issue, I always spoke to the person being accused for their input. When it was legit, I dealt with. Let me also add that when it was legit, they usually owned it. However, I never dealt with it publicly, so the person who brought the issue to my attention did not get to witness the result. Believe it or not, some adults like to see other adults dealt with when they had a legitimate grievance of which they want them held accountable. It’s uncanny, but true.

I knew people said this about me, and it didn’t hurt me one bit. But in all fairness, I’m not overly responsive to that kind of thing. I do see how that trait could have been annoying, but it was nothing I would have changed then, and looking back – I wouldn’t change it now.

So tell me: What do people say about you behind your back?

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