How do you think that you, as a person apart from your business, are perceived by others? There are ways to find out, if you really want to know.

In my personal branding workshops, we conduct an exercise that asks participants to write down three separate impressions they get of you after you give a 60-second introduction of yourself. Your peers are permitted to write positive characteristics only, because we don’t have time in the workshop to deal with the re-building of self esteem. (When I work with clients privately as a leadership branding consultant, we do explore the negatives and I’ll explain how to turn those frowns upside down later.)

To build a strong personal brand, you must have the courage to conduct an honest self-assessment, and also to receive frank appraisals from the people you love, trust and respect. If you really want to get down to the nitty gritty and lower your shields enough so that honest feedback can get through, then try this:

Send letters, or emails, to five or six people with whom you have supportive relationships. Explain to them that you are engaged in a self-improvement exercise (assigned by an image consultant) that requires you to get frank opinions of yourself from people you know and trust. Ask them to give you a list of positive characteristics of yourself, as well as any characteristics that might be holding you back from achieving your full potential in the business world. Ask them to describe the image you project to the outside world. Promise them that there will be no hard feelings, rather deep appreciation for their courage and willingness to help you with the creation of your new personal brand.

Warning: the feedback may be emotionally challenging. Given full reign, some people may “go to town” on the list of criticisms. Breathe, and take in the feedback with grace. It’s market research.

I asked some close friends and women I considered mentors to give me a frank appraisal of what they perceived as my strengths and weaknesses so that I could further develop my skills as a speaker and workshop leader. When I got my results back, it knocked the wind out of me. I threw up, ate a whole sleeve of Oreo cookies, and assumed the fetal position on my couch for a couple of days. Thank goodness for “I Love Lucy” and “Star Trek” reruns.

It’s not always easy to ask for, or receive, honest feedback, but I think you’ll find that as the result of it you’re able to grow into a new awareness of your unique gifts. Personal growth sometimes requires the shattering of long-held beliefs about how you are perceived by others. Some of the negatives about myself I already knew, but I thought I’d cleverly concealed them all these years. Other things were a complete shock, but they were things I could fix with practice. There were also things I could do nothing about, stuff that would require workarounds. C’est la vie.

If you’re a leader or a subject matter expert who wants to be in the spotlight, or who is inadvertently in the spotlight and is therefore obliged to present a positive image, then you need to know what others think of you. Let the friendly people in your life have a whack at you before the trolls do.