Making a good first impression is very important. Whether it’s for a job interview, your first day at work, first time working in a group project, controlling your first impression can lead to a strategic relationship.
Now I used the word “controlling”. This is important. It is always a good tip to make a good first impression, but having control over your impressions can lead to a more strategic outcome. And it’s not just about the first one, but also the second, third, and hundredth time. As a young female who is a part of the visible minority, I have been subject to stereotypes that can hinder my image.
The first time I’ve heard this expression I was taken aback. Why would they care about perception? If I can do the work and do it well, then why care about perception. First let’s clear this up. I was and still am a good worker. For context, I was working on an important presentation for upper management and it was my first time presenting for such a high profile audience. I though I had an amazing presentation and asked for feedback prior to presenting. They complimented my work but then said, “… be careful. It’s all about perception“.
Whatever could they mean? They explained that since I did such a good job that it may come across as if I had TOO MUCH time on my hands to produce such an amazing presentation. It APPEARED as if I was too busy working on this rather than my other core-related work. Now I love presenting and making presentations, it all took me about 2 hours. This was really the start of when I started to take notice and control my image.
There are many reasons to control your impressions. You could do it to appear older, more mature, team-player, independent, dependable, etc. Now you’re reading this and probably thinking, “but I need all of those…” And you do. It’s up to you to know when to use what. Controlling perception isn’t about being “fake”, its about being effective.
Here are some examples where controlling your impression can be used strategically.
- Being the Team Leader
Let’s say you are the new trainer in a horizontal team structure. Or you are about to work with someone older or more senior than you. It can be difficult to appear as equals as biases based on age and experience still exist in the workplace. Controlling your perception to be a “team leader” can help lessen these biases. This required alot of prep-work as you need to be versed on the topics beforehand. Be careful not to appear snob-ish or over confident as this would lead to the opposite effect.
2. Meeting Peers
When meeting peers for the first time you would want to appear approachable and relatable. You want to make it easy for them to get along with you and talk to you. Practice asking about their experiences and professional journey. When meeting peers at a networking event, the more you ask about them, the more they will ask about you later on. This opens dialogue and can easily be sustainable the more you discover about each other.
3. Meeting Mentors
Meeting mentors or seniors is different than meeting peers. When you’re meeting a mentor, they are likely to offer advice or talk about their professional experience. You would want to target your questions based on these. Have an open conversation about your experience regarding the same topics or ask advice on a problem that you have that they may have expertise on. This establishes a more mentor/mentee relationship rather than a meet and greet.
There are loads of books and articles on social interactions. And I don’t claim to be an expert in any of them. What I wanted to share with you is that, perception in everything. How your actions are perceived by upper management, team members, and direct reports shapes your relationship with them. Practice first by observing other peoples’ actions and how they are perceived by others to get a better idea of yourself. Goodluck!