You're super-intuitive about other people, I thought. Why can't that be applied to seeing how people perceive you? If you're really interested in how people feel about you, you should be able to sense it just like you sense anything else intuitively. Is there any particular reason this won't work? Is there too much interference from how you want to be perceived, or something like that? It seems to me that you should be eminently suited for figuring out what people think of you, unless you're blocking yourself somehow.
As for the line between seeking information vs. approval, it is crossed as soon as you have to ask which one you're doing. As soon as you ask, you are indicating that you are worried that you look like you're seeking approval, which means that you're more interested in how you appear than how you are. Of course, that's not a bad thing, because being aware of what you think about yourself is even more important than being aware of what other people think of you.