Said something out loud that sounded better in your head and later wished that you had kept it there
Shared a story about your personal life that didn’t position you in the most favorable light?
Articulated exactly what was on your mind, without taking into consideration the feelings of others?
Yelled at someone negatively in a crowded public area?
Thought you were muted on a conference call only to find out that you were not?
In my career that has spanned 20 years working across most of the 50 states, I have been fortunate to interact with literally hundreds of different personality types. Shy, outgoing, loud, confident, introverted, intelligent, shallow, rigid, well educated and not so well educated. By geography I have had the pleasure of interacting and conducting business with northeasterners, new Englanders (yes, there is really a difference) inland southerners, gulf state southerners, Texans, the west coast wine loving ocean faring and smack dab middle American heartlanders. Coupling my professional experience with an educational background in psychology and masters degree including studies in organizational behavior, you can understand why communication and conduct is something of acute awareness and interest to me.
I haven’t always seen the expansive scope of my audience as a positive. Many times I felt frustrated and heated when placed center stage in an uncomfortable conversation. However, somewhere around the mid point of my professional journey I began to see the benefits of being exposed to a variety of different people working across all levels of their organizations. Included in the buckets of different personality types I have encountered there have been: newcomers, champions, dynamic leaders, sales savvy independents, executives of others and executives of nothing.
Behavior is an interesting thing…the manner in which we behave and interact with others drives both our future actions and reactions. In addition, impressions left by behavior and experiences is an integral input to building other people’s perception of you. Perceptions are extremely important as inputs to shape an individual’s personal brand, or more simply put, a description of how you are viewed by others.
The level of significance and weight that should be placed on continuously adding positive impressions to a person’s individual and personal brand cannot be stressed enough and should never be discounted. To ensure you have a good grasp on the concept, lets explore impressions and brands a little further. The idea is similar to how you consider a company’s overall brand when making a decision to purchase a product or service.
Consider your last experience with a home repair company, for instance an air conditioning repairperson. The price you are forecasted to pay for the service is always the most obvious factor in making a decision of who to use, however, you should also consider the total experience. When scheduling an appointment, was it easy and convenient? Depending on your immediate need, was the company flexible to your schedule and attentive to your request? Did the repairperson walk you through the diagnosis and your different options so that you understood the problem and felt like you were part of the decision making process (keep in mind that even something as simple as an air conditioning repair, you always have options that are associated with a cost structure). At the end of the experience, did you feel you were treated as just another transaction or as a valued customer?
You would most likely base your future decision to use the same company on some or all of these elements. If the end result was an extremely positive experience, you may decide that paying a little more is worthwhile to have a repair company that is sensitive to its customers’ needs. Or you may base your decision on the timeliness of completing the repair, depending on the season, for example, there is a premium placed on how fast an air conditioner can be repaired. However, what if the situation was negative? Either the repairperson was late, or missed the appointment all together? Or the scheduling may have been satisfactory, but you felt you were overcharged for the service. In most cases, your impression of the transaction would be highly negative. Not only would you not want to use the service provider again, you may also share your experience with friends and family, thus compounding the negative perception. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool in terms of marketing brand management.
If you are in the business of providing product, the severity of a negative experience can depend on multiple elements, such as location, ability to provide product to customers, exclusivity and the popularity of the product itself. If however you are in the business of providing a service, depending on the need, your level of experience and subject matter expertise, an overall negative image can deliver a fatal blow.
Next, think about how you might describe a co-worker. You might first visualize his or her appearance. The long used term “dress for success” has had many different interpretations across generations. Sometimes this statement has been interpreted as: if how I dress makes me feel good, then it will help me to produce positive results in a professional setting.
Let me give you an example of when this is not true:
A close friend of mine once described a female co-worker who only wore low cut blouses, which were not always flattering, but were always distracting. The individual truly believed she was appropriately dressed, if not dressed at a level above the business casual dress code. Since her role included a lot of in person interaction with others on the team, you may be able to imagine why unfortunately the success of her projects was not the first topic when her named surfaced in a conversation. In fact, several individuals whispered about the befuddling attire to the point that it kept the overall team from being productive. This is not the situation most budding stars would want to find themselves as they are seeking to rise to higher level positions within an organization.
On the other hand, another female within the same company was described as someone who always dresses flawlessly, conservatively and very smart. She is young in her career, and her attire is a contributing element to the positive impressions that she leaves on others that she comes into contact with on a regular basis.
So here are two contrasting examples to illustrate the point that how you dress can be an influencing factor in a much larger corporate picture. The summary point is that you should consider the environment or culture and dress accordingly. In most cases in a professional setting, human resources will have guidelines for both men and women of how this is defined.
Example statements of how dress for success shouldn’t be defined include:
Women should only wear pantsuits so they are seen as equal to their male counterparts
Men should always wear a tie and jacket in a meeting setting
Men who wear shoes with laces should be taken more seriously than men who wear loafers or shoes with tassels…The last example makes me laugh, a trend that I found in traveling with male co-workers is: depending on how frequently they are going through an airport security check point often contributes to the types of shoes they have in their closet!
Beyond appearance, you would also probably consider time management skills, work ethic, decisions they have made and their communication style. Have you ever experienced a colleague in your organization or a customer that has a consistent habit of arriving late? This sentence could continue, including one or all of the following phrases: late to work, late to meetings, conference calls or sponsored events? Further, is the individual typically unprepared for the task and falls further behind as he or she takes time to acclimate? How has that person generally perceived by you and by others? Does the behavior become acceptable for the individual or is it something that is a constant irritant? In contrast, consider the individual who is always on time or slightly early to meetings, these individuals typically come with ample ideas for discussion and brainstorming, building on ideas that are presented. How does the impact of this person change a meeting experience versus the unprepared? What you will find is that people want to include productive, energetic and thoughtful individuals to participate in projects or meetings. Individuals that are distracting, or insensitive to the audience can be passed over for opportunities and promotions.
If you profile the last six months of experiences, which bucket do you see yourself in today?