We all form impressions about the people we interact with. At work, these professional images can be based on years of dealings or just a couple of random interactions.
Is your own professional reputation what you want it to be?
Like most people, I’d like colleagues to think I’m smart, confident, approachable, honest, flexible, friendly, optimistic and … strong. Now, let’s make a leap and assume I am all of those things. Does it matter if there’s not a match between how people see me and how I really am?
We’re told more and more that what people think of us doesn’t matter all that much. We shouldn’t care. But think about it. Others’ impressions of us do matter. The way people see us (even if it’s inaccurate) can hold us back—keep us from getting jobs or promotions, making friends, making a sale, being trusted, being asked to lift heavy things (Yes, I’m back on that strength thing).
“Their loss.” You might be thinking if there’s a mismatch between perception and reality. And it could be ….
But it’s also your loss. (Just last week I was passed over when there was an opportunity to help cart a desk from one office to the next. Sad.)
But mismatches happen. We have bad days. We make mistakes. We hesitate. Our body language (or momentary behavior) doesn’t match our desired image—e.g., You’re honest, but you don’t make great eye contact; you’re friendly, but sometimes you spend more time talking than listening; or you’re confident, but your voice gets really shaky when you speak in front of a crowd.
What can you do to change your image?
It’s not always easy because the people around us are human and human brains are built to save energy. We don’t reevaluate something (or someone) unless we really need to and there’s compelling evidence.
To make matters worse, a study noted by sciencedaily.com found that people are quicker to diagnose moral decline and slower to diagnose moral improvement. For example, if you make a first impression of being friendly, it only takes a couple agitated remarks before that will change to standoffish or rude. Conversely, if you have a reputation for being a control freak and you wanted to change that, you would need to provide much more evidence of your new, relaxed approach for people to change their opinion. Research found that people are more likely to assume positive change is an anomaly.
So what kind of compelling evidence could you provide to help change your image?
- Boldly change course. Don’t be subtle about the new you. If you want to appear more professional, do it. If you want to lose your reputation for procrastination, do it (and maybe even tell the person who’s been waiting on you that you’re aware of your tardiness and resolve to stay on schedule) and do it.
- Keep up the changed behavior over time. People’s opinions will only change after getting a lot of information to the contrary over an extended period.
- Don’t avoid someone who has a bad impression of you. They have to see evidence of the behavior you’re trying to project and if they never see you, that won’t happen.
- Wait it out. If people are slow to pick up on your new image, you will be forced to wait it out.
Changing your image won’t happen overnight. People have to have compelling reasons to change how they think about you. But by carefully considering how you want people to see you and then making sure your actions and words match, over time you can make it stick.
Hey, over here. Do you need someone to lift that couch?