Personal impact - Making the Impact You Choose
Lots of people say first impressions matter.
Indeed, the academics and psychologists who study this kind of stuff, say that people take about a nano-second to make up their minds on meeting someone new.
You may call it a snap judgement.
We think it's more about the impact you make, and whether it's the one you want to make.
Impact Factory has run many programmes (both tailor-made courses, corporate programmes and individual one to one sessions) on making an impact and developing personal style.
This work is all about looking at how you come across and what you can do to make the kind of impression you want. In particular we look at how to change the impression you make without having to change your whole personality.
Most people who want to come across more impactfully think they would be all right if they were only like so and so, if they could only talk like this person, or be the life of the party like that person. Most people do this at some point in their lives: look at someone who seems to have charm, poise, confidence, and wish they could be like that too.
Well we all know that isn't going to happen. The only material you have to work with is you, the person you are right now! The good news is that you probably come across a lot better than you think (but more on that later).
Developing your impact goes hand in hand with developing yourself. It's done through looking at strengths and developing what you already have, rather than trying to fix the weaknesses.
What's an impact?
We all impact on the people around us every day of our lives (and in turn, they impact on us). Sometimes our impact is positive and powerful; but it can also be overwhelming (too powerful), inappropriate or weak. The problem is that because our own view of the impact we have on others is, by its nature, so subjective, it is very difficult to know how and why things go wrong, or at least not the way we had hoped. At best, we may just get a vague sense of things not being quite as they should be or how we imagined they would be.
There are many ways we impact on others. For instance, our accent, race, gender, clothes, hair, communication style, body language. We impact on others through our opinions, the amount we contribute, the sound of our voice, the effect of our silence, the expressions we use.
Our capacity to impact on others is greatly affected by our understanding or misunderstanding of what we think the rules and conventions are. This can give rise to a feeling of not being 'allowed' to speak our mind or of it not being 'right' to influence other people - 'Oh that's manipulation, I couldn't do that'.
It's also affected by a fear of making a complete fool of ourselves, by who's in the room, by the room itself, by our 'excess baggage' that we lug into meetings (or that others lug into meetings), relationships, presentations, etc. The impact we make can be affected by the weather, by the tube being late, by the time of day, by our attitude towards the person/people we are speaking to.
So the first place to look when you want to start designing the way you impact on others is to identify the pit falls you know trip you up and which will undermine your ability to choose the impact you make.
The Self in relation to others
Do you know how other peoples see you? When you leave a meeting or end a conversation, what impression do you leave behind? What picture do other people have of you? How do you think they perceive you?
Here are common areas by which people build up their perceptions of us in the workplace. Try compiling a profile of yourself using this questionnaire (score 1 for lowest and 10 for highest).
Then ask someone from your peer group who knows you well to fill it out. Next try someone who knows you less well and someone like your boss. You'll soon become aware of the discrepancies between how you think you are perceived and how you are actually perceived.
How are you at:
- Giving acknowledgement
- Getting acknowledgement
- Allowing mistakes
- Identifying others' needs
- Confronting issues
- Goal setting
- Resolving conflict
- Constructively criticising
- Asking for help
- Giving bad news
- Seeing points of view
- Being Flexible
- Following through
- Handling confidentiality
- Preparing for change
Are there any areas where you scored yourself low to middling, where others had you scored higher? Or vice versa? Any big gaps between how you see yourself and how others see you?
What sort of person are you?
We know that people are complex beings. We are never one thing or have just one kind of impact on others. But even though we know this, we still carry a picture inside our heads of how we think others see us. Indeed, there may be a whole catalogue of pictures: 'My father sees me as a wimp, my girlfriend as an ogre.' 'My boss sees me as dedicated, my secretary as a layabout.' ' My best friend see me as compassionate, my neighbour as a busybody.'
What labels do you imagine other people attach to you?
Do you pigeonhole yourself? It's very easy. We're quick to categorise ourselves and therefore limit the person we can be. Then we go out and make sure that others see us that way, as we stick resolutely to our 'type'. We may even say, 'Oh, that's just the sort of person I am.' No! That's the person we've become; and if we became it, we can un-become it!
So what sort of person do you think you are?
Whether we open our mouths or not, we are talking, saying things to others about ourselves.
Having looked at some of the elements that go into your making impact, the next step is to see what you are actually saying. For instance, if I always wear black I might be saying, 'I'm a gloomy, introvert who's trying to hide'; or I might be saying, 'I'm glamorous and mysterious.'
If I always introduce myself first instead of waiting for people to come up to me, I might be saying, 'I'm a confident person and am looking forward to meeting you'; or I might be saying, 'let's get this over with so I can get back to my corner.'
Only you will know what it is you are trying to say. It is rare that people make no impact at all; but common to make one they didn't intend. By this we mean, that if you aren't conscious about how you come across to others, you relinquish pretty much all control of how you will be perceived. It will rest in other people's hands.
Now, of course, you can never completely be in charge of how others perceive you, but you can have a lot more say in the matter than you may think.
Don't look inside!
Just about the worst place you can look to see the impression you are making on others is inside. How you feel about how others see you is not a good indicator of how you are coming across, yet that's usually the first place we will go to collect the 'evidence'.
You talk to someone, you feel nervous, you look inside yourself and see a gibbering wreck. Therefore, you imagine that the other person sees a gibbering wreck as well. Then what usually happens is that you will start to compensate your behaviour (damage limitation) in the hopes that the other person will see someone who's confident. This usually makes it worse, of course.
So if you don't look inside for the 'evidence', what happens instead?
How do you want others to see you?
Having looked at how you think you come across, you need to identify how you want others to see you and then see if any of it matches up. Sometimes, it's all in alignment: how you feel you come across matches up with how you want to be seen.
More often there will be a gap. The above example is a case in point. You don't want to be seen as a gibbering wreck; you want to be seen as confident and competent. Except you really do believe that you're seen as a gibbering wreck. How do you break through that 'vicious cycle'?
It is only once you've identified the gap that you can do anything about narrowing it.
The self in relation to the self
One of the ways we communicate is to tell ourselves what's wrong with us. It's as though there' a constant self-assessment going on that in most cases, tends to be negative. 'I didn't do that very well, did I?' 'I could have said that better.' 'I shouldn't have done that.' And so on.
We're taught it's not good to be too self-congratulatory - I'll be seen as big headed and conceited.
If you begin to take more notice of what's already working: what you do well, the qualities, individual traits and idiosyncrasies that you have and that make you a unique individual, you'll be working with positives. Positive qualities require no work. They make us feel good and can be displayed or used far more easily than things we should be better at.
Start looking at where you are most effective and how you do that. Start noticing when you do things well and then congratulating yourself for it.
Start telling yourself what's right about yourself. Go back to the questionnaire at the beginning of this document and see if you can up some of your scores by reassessing yourself from a positive point of view. Here's an example: Say you've given yourself a 6 or 7 for Encouraging. Your self-talk might go something like this: 'I'm pretty good at encouraging others, but really I don't notice things enough and I should praise people a lot more.'
That's one form of the truth.
Try this version: 'I'm pretty good at encouraging others. I like to let people know when I've spotted their efforts and help them do better.'
That's another version of the same truth.
Here's how it could work every time.
The Virtuous Cycle
A virtuous cycle is something that reinforces your own good opinion of yourself.
Virtuous cycles can be used to change one small thing about your impact. In time these small changes can lead to larger changes.
Make a small, deliberate change in your behaviour. Let's say you never speak up in meetings. A small change might just be to agree with someone else' comments, just so your voice is heard in the room.
That will change, even if only slightly, how you are seen or experienced. You will also start feeling better because you've given yourself a doable objective which is far more easily achieved than telling yourself, 'I need to speak up a lot more in meetings, so the next time there's an opening I'll take it.' (You won't, by the way. You'll be so busy waiting for the opening it will pass you by.)
How you are viewed, in turn, changes the way you are treated (e.g. people will start to ask your opinion at meetings; they may start looking for your agreement).
Which, in turn, reinforces your change of behaviour. Having spoken up and seen it's had a positive effect, you will be more comfortable speaking up at meetings.
And so the cycle goes round.
You make an impact anyway, so with a little effort, you can choose the impact you want to make. With the right approach and some support from those around you, you can start to add brighter colour to your life.
And as we say at Impact Factory, make the smallest change for the biggest impact.
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