We’ve all heard the cliché…you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. In my last article, I explained that perceptions – especially first impressions – are strong and lasting. First impressions form the foundation from which all future thoughts about someone will be based. Those first bits of information are more powerful than information received later. It’s part of our human wiring, our survival instinct. When we first meet someone, our senses go into overdrive. And once we’ve formed an opinion, we need to be persuaded otherwise.
If you’ve made a negative impression on someone, it is difficult to recover. However, with time and the right actions, you can do it. Doing so requires a consistent flow of new positive messages. That means learning to be mindful of your behavior at all times. It will take time and energy. Success at work starts with positive perceptions. If you need to modify your image, here are some options.
First, you need to understand both the existing perception and the new one you want to make. Feedback is vitally important because we can justify our own behavior very easily. If you are unsure whether you offended someone, get a second opinion. Ask for feedback such as, “Was I out of line?” If you’ve done something wrong, apologize. Explain your actions by taking responsibility. In other words, don’t blame others or external factors. Own your behavior. Be genuine and convey sincerity by making eye contact with a serious facial expression. Pause for several seconds to allow the other person to absorb what you’ve said. At the same time, don't drone on and make it dramatic, especially if it’s a simple mistake. Be brief. For example, If you call a patient the wrong name all you need to say is, “Sally, I am so sorry I’ve been calling you Susan” and make sure from then on you call her by the right name.
The next step is to create opportunities to convey your positive messages. The persona you put forward, however, must be you. You cannot be someone you are not. In fact, other people will see that as disingenuous and that will only make matters worse. Living a lie is extraordinarily difficult to sustain. Remember how strange and off-putting Clark Kent was as he tried to act like a regular Joe...because he had something to hide? Be yourself but be your best self.
Be consistent. Over time, a relationship that started on a bad note will be more comfortable as long as you continue to be yourself. Although you can never change the story of when you first met, at least your actions can be explained as an aberration. In the long run, consistency of character is much more important than making a good first impression.
Should the misperception be more prevalent, seek out people who have opportunities to observe your behavior. Explain that you are concerned you may not be projecting the right image and ask if there is anything you can do to improve the way you are viewed by others. Consider the when's and why's. Stress often allows unintentional behavior to surface. It is possible, too, that you have been completely unaware of the behavior that has created the impression you want to change. One of my executive clients told me about a colleague who talked so much that he annoyed everyone around him. No one would speak up to tell him, so he was unaware of the problem. You may never know if you don't have the courage to ask.
As you interact with others, take note of the way they react to you. Pay attention to their behavior, speech and body language. Do they seem to react positively or negatively to you? Are they interested in what you have to say? Following each interaction, record your observations in a notebook. Review them later and try to pinpoint what behaviors you may be exhibiting to cause any negative reactions.
It’s easy to get impatient for results and give up too quickly. Behavioral change is not easy; it requires dedication and consistency. Only constant repetition and reinforcement of your new behavior will change people's perceptions of you. Remember that building self-awareness requires courage and commitment. Remain positive. Thinking that someone dislikes you, or pressuring yourself to change someone's mind, is self-defeating behavior. Remind yourself that you cannot change what is in the past. Let the experience be a wake-up call and allow yourself to move on. And if you need a coach, I’m here to help.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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