Impressions & image


It is important to distinguish between the image you want others to have of you and the image that you think people currently have of you. Most people want to be described as technically competent, socially skilled, of strong character and integrity, and committed to work, their team, and their company. Research shows that the most favorably regarded traits are trustworthiness, caring, humility and capability.

Your professional image is the set of qualities and characteristics that represent perceptions of your competence and character as judged by your clients, superiors, sub-ordinates, colleagues and boss!

In today’s diverse and unforgiving corporate atmosphere, one’s actions and motives are constantly under scrutiny. As a working professional, it’s essential now more than ever before to manage one’s professional image before others do it for you.

People are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character, and commitment, which are rapidly disseminated throughout your workplace. It is wise to add your voice in framing others’ theories about who you are and what you can accomplish.

Ask yourself the question: ‘What do I want my seniors to say about me when I’m not in the room?’ This description is your desired professional image. Likewise, you might ask yourself the question: What am I concerned that my key stakeholders might say about me when I’m not in the room? The answer to this question represents your undesired professional image.

In the increasingly diverse, twenty-first century workplace, people face a number of complex challenges in creating a positive professional image. They often experience a significant incomprehension between their desired professional image and their perceived professional image. In short, they are not perceived in the manner that they desire themselves to be perceived in. Instead, their undesired professional image may be more closely aligned with how their seniors actually perceive them.

All professionals will experience a ‘predicament’ – an event that reflects poorly on their competence, character, or commitment at some point in time. This could be due to mistakes they have made in the past that have become public knowledge, or competency gaps of shortcomings or limitations in skill set or style.

Positive Stereotypes

Even positive stereotypes can pose a challenge for creating a positive professional image if someone is perceived as being unable to live up to favorable expectations of their social identity group(s). For example, women in India are still considered non-competent managers.

Similarly, female medical students and residents are often mistaken for nurses and challenged by patients who do not believe they are legitimate physicians.

Managing Your Image

Despite the added complexity of managing stereotypes while also demonstrating competence, character, and commitment, there is promising news for creating your professional image! People manage impressions through their non-verbal behavior (appearance, manner), verbal cues (vocal pitch, tone, and rate of speech, grammar and diction, disclosures), and demonstrative acts like job performance.

In order to create a positive professional image, impression management must effectively accomplish two tasks:
Build credibility and maintain authenticity. When you present yourself in a manner that is both true to self and valued and believed by others, impression management can yield a host of favorable outcomes for you, team, and your organization.

On the other hand, when you present yourself in an inauthentic and non-credible manner, you are likely to undermine your health, relationships, and performance.

Some suggestions to overcome the negative traits,

Identify your ideal state. Identify the core competencies and character traits you want people to associate with you.
Know your social identity to be emphasized and incorporated into workplace interaction. Assess your current image, culture, and audience their expectation of professionalism and how others perceive you.

· Conduct a cost-benefit analysis for image change. Caring about others’ perceptions of you and capability of changing your image. The benefits should be worth the costs. (Cognitive, psychological, emotional, physical efforts).

· Use strategic self-presentation to manage impressions and change your image. Employ appropriate traditional and social identity-based impression management strategies.

Finally, make sure that you always monitor your behavior. Monitor others’ perceptions of you. Pay attention to the balancing act, build credibility while maintaining authenticity. Manage the effort you invest in the process.