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Managing Perception


By: Dr. James W. Cooper

Walk into any office in America, engage in a conversation for a moment or two with any employees, and soon after you know “unofficially” what their co-workers think of them. We all can pick out the office gossip, the leader, the quiet one, the nice guy, and the genius. As the old adage goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. I suggest we re-think that: not only do you not get a second chance to make a first impression, you don’t get a third chance to make a second impression, you don’t get the fourth chance to make a third impression, and so. The point is that most of us go out of our way to impress someone the first five minutes - when in fact we should impress someone from the first minute on.

Just like political spin-doctors in the mist of damage control, we must put a “spin” on our efforts. The effort here is not to distort the truth, but to architect a reality that we want to be recognized for. This is no different from wanting others to recognize our work ethic. We all want to be known as hard workers. Thus, we accomplish that goal by working hard. But have you ever been in an environment where you put in the work and did not get the recognition for it? What you probably failed to do was promote the perception of hard work while you actually performed hard work.

So how does the average Joe or Jane manage the perception of his or her work habits?

  • Show leadership. Leadership is probably one those skills easiest to plan for but the hardest skill to demonstrate. To me leadership represents guidance, to direct, to influence, or to manage. There are a number of ways to show leadership in an office environment. For instance, guidance could mean to point someone on the right path then step out of that person’s way. If you have the opportunity to mentor a fellow employee in a task or situation, do so. Leadership also takes the form or influencing others. Never step back from a situation where your opinion of comment can influence a group or peers. And finally, leaders know what is expected of them and manages those expectations well.

  • Befriend key individuals. Make it a point to single out key employees to put your best foot forward. Ask them for their advice. Take them out to lunch. Test run an idea by them. Make it a point to personalize and value the relationship. And most importantly, make contact with those at all levels of the company. You don’t want to be in a position of trying to figure out which voices are the ones heard by senior management of the company.

  • Suggests new ways of doing business, think outside the boxes. Every company asks for creative solutions but usually puts together a suggestion box as that solution. The one thing you must remember is that creative solutions don’t always have to come from you. What’s important is that you champion creative ideas, and lend support and recognition behind the winners. You want others in the organization to think of you as a facilitator of creative ideas.

  • Celebrate your victories as team victories. This should be a statement of life as well as the office. The employee that exudes a humble “it wasn’t just me” approach not only complements the organization but himself as well. The result is that in the next difficult situation, others will want to be a part of his team and actually initiate an opportunity to work with him. Remember that Michael Jordan was considered the greatest basketball player ever before he won championships. After learning how to win championships with his teammates, he transcended his own sport and became one of the greatest athletes ever.

  • Put your goals on display. This is important because not only does it let everyone know what you are going, it lets everyone know if you are doing it. Managing how others perceive your work is a moot point if you are not accomplishing your goals.

  • Promote your desire for advancement. Promoting your desire is not merely going to your boss to show them that you are sick and tired of your job. You have to express an eagerness for the work you do now, and a burning in your gut for the next opportunity. But more importantly, you have to lay down the path to the next opportunity. What this mean is that you take the time to study what’s ahead, ask to assist someone in that position, and take the initiative on your own to acquire some of that work load. In no time at all you will be labeled as a person “who really wants it.”

  • Use conflict as an opportunity to solve problems. Most employees see conflict the way a deer stares down headlights; either they run or get run over. Conflict should be looked upon as a challenge to succeed where someone or something failed. Keep in mind that conflict is how you perceive it, and that one man’s conflict is another man’s comfort. If you forget everything else in the heat of conflict, always remember what will free you from it: What are we going to do about it?

  • Ask for help. This is one of the most powerful strategies you can ever use. When someone asks for help, they are willingly putting themselves in position that empowers the helper. It forms or strengthens a bond between two people. Most human beings by nature want to perceive themselves as something of value. What better way to enhance that feeling in others than asking them to give of themselves?

  • Always keep an upbeat perspective and professional personality. One of the quickest ways to destroy any positive impressions is to carry around a sour attitude. A sour attitude not only penetrates your thoughts and actions but also weighs down the perception of you. It is also one of the easiest areas to adjust and change. Saying that you will have a great day regardless of what happens, smiling when you don’t feel like it, or seeing the humor in things will go a long way to keep you upbeat and your image intact.

The one thing you should come away with from this article is despite hard work, an active hand in managing your perception will be the little extra that will separate you from the pack. In addition, no matter how bad your perceived image, you always have it within your own power to make it into something you truly want to be.

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