Preeti Paranjpe works as Manager – CBE (Centre for Behavioral Excellence), Talent Transformation,
Manage your Behavior to Manage Impressions
I recently got a feedback from my senior that I had poor networking skills. I was surprised and wanted to know more. As he is also my mentor, I set up a meeting with him and expressed my wish to understand what made him say so and how can I improve.He gave me examples of how I had missed out on opportunities to connect with stakeholders who matter, pointing out the significance of such touchpoints in forming the right impressions. While the discussion went smooth, I was justifying and defending myself at times during the discussion, as I thought I had been doing enough to establish connect. Clearly my intent of connecting and what I did about it, had not worked. What was appreciable was how he gave me tips on modifying my behaviors to modify the impressions that had got created.
Sometimes even such constructive feedback and tips can be confusing and disturbing. We might think ‘Did I really do / not do that?’ Chances are that we are unaware of how our behavior is constantly shaping perceptions in the minds of others. Such perceptions are quick judgements we make based on what we observe and experience about others. Sadly, they can take a long time to change. When my senior told me that one internal customer commented ‘Preeti seems busy these days’, I realized that the impression I may have created is that ‘I am busy and do not have time for you at present’. Not one of the best perceptions to leave in the mind of a customer! My lack of awareness of this and some other instances, made me think about how this could mar the efforts I am making to create a positive impression at workplace. It took me a couple of months to eventually accept the given feedback and start working on it. The acceptance came through only when I was able to answer these questions:
- What impressions, perceptions do I want to create on people around me at workplace?
- Am I communicating and behaving in a way which will form those impressions?
- What is the gap, if any, and how do I fill it? What should I change?
The above answers are difficult to articulate, but not impossible to figure out. I found that I wanted to be seen as an approachable and competent colleague, who is quick in her work and provides value to others through every interaction. Answering the second question was an eye-opener. It made me realize that I had established myself enough to be trusted with major projects, but few conversations with my colleagues did not always go well. My tone with them was sometimes sharp, if I observed lack of speed in work or the deviation of a process. This left them hurt. I was also not proactively seeking meetings and interactions with them and some important internal customers. Gulping down all the frustration that came with these insights, I got down to listing how I should change my behaviors to change the impressions about me.
How easy is it to changeour behavior? Easy if we identify the purpose behind it, find theright approach and make the necessary effort. However, it can be tough if we do not believe current behavior is causing problems and needs to change. Let us look at what can help to identify the need for change and what steps need to be taken to create a lasting appropriate change in behavior:
- Be aware of your behavior:
Contemplate on your performance, skills and relationships – Is there something amiss? Is there some feedback you are instantly rejecting? Does it seem like an effort to move out of your comfort zone and do something different? If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, thenit’s possible that you are experiencing some amount of anxiety or discomfort in that area of your life. The first step is to commit to replace these emotions with acceptance and hope by setting goals to improve yourself. Awareness of unhelpful behaviors helps to know their impact on yourself and others. For example, I identified my impatience with few co-workers as a stressor, and understood the negative impact and impression that was left on them.
- Motivate yourself and set goals:
A further awareness can be about what you say and do that reinforces the current unwanted behavior. My impatience was apparent in my tone and expectations. How can I change that? I visualized how it would be to have a friendly and meaningful relationship with one colleague with whom I behaved in this way. I imagined her giving me positive feedback related to the question – what impressions, perceptions do I want to create. This motivated me and helped me to set a goal to watch my tone every single time I spoke to her next. I also made a note of how I would move out of my comfort zone and set up more meetings to network with colleagues and customers. Scheduling it in my diary was a way to commit and make it happen.
- Learn the new behavior, practice it:
Learning skills is rarely a wasted effort. I had learnt voice modulation in a behavioral skills class and decided to utilize the skill of sounding firm and confident, but not aggressive. It took some practice, but testing it on a friendly neighbor helped me to get feedback and stay on track!
It took me great effort to reconnect with some of my stakeholders whom I had not met for months. A couple of them had forgotten my name too! Drafting some common conversation openers and persisting to get appointments and being more social than I am, pushed me out of my comfort zone.
It could be a good four to six weeks till I get habituated to the new behaviors. But a slight discomforting consistent practice is better than being written off as a promising colleague and professional! When negative results of our behavior make us sad, generating a positive reinforcement in the form of self-affirmation (‘I can do this’) or giving yourself a reward helps!
How people perceive us through a collection of impressions and perceptions adds to their understanding of us as an individual. On identifying unfavorable perceptions through feedback or observation, look at what is causing them. Work on the parts of your behavior that you can change, to change how they experience you. A concerted effort will yield results, and you will see a lesser gap in how you want to be perceived, and how you are!