“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.“
- Warren Buffet
Other people’s perceptions are very important in business. First impressions are made within seconds and office gossip has the potential to damage a reputation almost beyond repair. Do you know how your colleagues perceive you?
Have you overheard someone’s negative comments? Has your boss reprimanded you during your evaluation? Has a friend said something about your behavior? Perhaps people’s body language or tone of voice changes when you join a conversation, or maybe you just have a gut feeling.
If you want to find out how you’re perceived, ask someone you can trust and listen carefully to their comments, without taking offense.
Other people’s perceptions of you may be wrong, but rather than wasting time complaining, getting even or defending yourself, take action to change their opinion. Just keep in mind that your actions in the first few months at a new company or in a new position will set the tone for how others perceive you.
Here are eight common misperceptions, and ways you can turn negative impressions into positive ones.
1- They think you’re lazy
Ask for more responsibilities and go above and beyond your call of duty at work. No matter how full your schedule is, you need to be seen working harder.
Show your accomplishments
Don’t brag; use a little creativity to turn the office gossip from criticism to praise. People like to be thanked. Try saying something like, “thanks for the figures you gave me; that really helped me get my report ready for the Board of Directors.”
Watch your body language
Don’t slouch or lean against the nearest wall or desk. Keep your feet off the desk — literally and figuratively. Approach your work with energy and enthusiasm to counteract any suggestions that hard work goes against your nature.
2- They think you’re unprofessional
Courtesy is contagious. When you’re respectful and polite, it makes it more difficult for people to judge you unfairly, blame you unjustly or otherwise disrespect you.
Don’t be defensive when you receive feedback or when you overhear things about you that are inaccurate. Being open to comments and listening to constructive criticism is a sign of maturity and professionalism.
Filter your comments
To avoid putting your foot in your mouth, think carefully before speaking. No matter how angry you are or how sloppy someone else’s work is, hold back. Watch what you say and whom you say it to.
Look the part
Dress appropriately and speak well. Know the corporate policies and lingo. Be prepared for meetings and be sure your workspace looks organized.
3- They think you’re the office clown
You’re there to work so stop telling jokes and trying to make people laugh. There’s plenty of time for humor over a beer after work. When your colleagues pressure you to entertain them, put the focus on someone else. “I can’t think of anything funny today. How about telling your joke, Charlie?” deflects the attention on to someone else without alienating anyone.
It’s great to be known as an open and fun-loving kind of guy, but there’s a limit. Leave a crowd of employees who are laughing it up, by saying you must return to work.
Maintain a professional-looking workspace. Take down the cartoons and limit the number of e-mail jokes you forward.
You might want to remove that lampshade from your head…
4- They think you’re a party guy
Tone it down
Don’t talk about your experiences. How late you stayed out and how much you drank is no one else’s business. Don’t consume alcohol during working hours and behave at corporate functions like the annual holiday office party. Treat after-work gatherings as networking opportunities instead of a party and you will change people’s impressions.
No matter how valid your excuse is, don’t show up late unless you want people to speculate about your extracurricular activities. Arrive on time, and be alert and ready to be productive.
5- They think you’re a womaniser
Don’t boast about your sexual conquests. No matter how tempted you are, never flirt, your boss, your staff, or your clients.
Clean up your act
Don’t use any sexual innuendoes, don’t forward jokes of a sexual nature and, of course, don’t surf pornographic sites at work.
6- They think you’re always late
Be on time
Get up earlier and be the first one to arrive at work. Be realistic with your schedule and build in extra time. You’re setting yourself up for criticism if you routinely neglect to plan for travel time between appointments. Being late is perceived as a sign of disrespect and disorganization.
Prepare and follow a to-do list, updating it regularly. To be safe, overestimate the time it takes to perform your tasks. Don’t procrastinate. Plan your timeline well and you’ll be able to hand in your projects before the deadline, no matter what unexpected problems arise.
7- They think you’re unethical
Be careful what you propose. Don’t suggest stealing the competition’s ideas or plagiarizing someone else’s research. Be sure that any claims you make about your products are accurate and proven.
Follow corporate guidelines to avoid any perception that you’re abusing the company’s fringe benefits (for example, making personal long-distance calls or using the company photocopier for multiple personal copies). Know the policy on accepting gifts from customers or suppliers, and don’t get caught on the golf course when you call in sick.
If you make a mistake, admit it. Take ownership instead of blaming someone else or making excuses.
Make the right decisions
If you are asked to do something you feel is wrong, reflect on the long-term impact it will have on your image and professional reputation.
Donate money to charity in the company’s name. Suggest doing a fundraiser at work to help a charitable organization or ask employees to bring in non-perishable goods for a local food bank.
8- They think you’re not a team player
Learn and use people’s names. Take the time to get to know a little about your coworkers’ business strengths and outside interests.
Don’t poach ideas from colleagues and always give credit when it’s due. Offer to help a colleague if you can and praise your teammates for a job well done. When upper management hears your colleagues saying how much they enjoy working with you, you’ll be seen as a natural leader.
Focus on your goals
Whether or not their perceptions are accurate, what your colleagues think and say about you can potentially make or break your career. Ask for feedback from a trusted colleague or your boss on a regular basis. You want to turn negative comments into positive ones. Many of these suggestions are interchangeable; just remember not to be defensive.
By trying to change people’s perceptions of you, you’re not necessarily admitting to any of these shortcomings; you’re simply trying to get those you work with to see you in better light. So don’t try to change your personality. Remain sincere and true to your values. And if all else fails, start fresh at a new company.
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Resource: Edward Chalmers
For more articles like this, see AskMen UK