In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell mined mountains of psychological studies and produced boxcars of data to demonstrate the incredible speed with which the human mind makes judgments. And once we make judgments…boy, do they stick. Appearances that should be irrelevant — our race, gender, and age; our physical appeal; a nasal voice, or a New York assertiveness can implicate us and stick like crazy glue.
“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” grandma wisely told us. If you are first seen as a cynic or skeptic, a joker, a flirt, an egghead or jerk, then it takes the smallest amount of consistent data to confirm the sentence upon you. Is there anything you can do? (The following advice is written for managers, but it applies as well to those leading without real authority.)
- Learn your reputation. For managers, that’s not always so easy. You need allies in the field. And they need to know that you won’t shoot the messenger and aren’t looking for a pat on the back. You have to give them permission, for example, by saying, “Nobody is a perfect manager, and every manager loses touch with what people are saying. I’d love to know the criticisms or questions you think I may not be hearing. I’m not asking who is critical; I’m just eager to know the criticism so I can adapt.”
- Let people know you know. Make it matter-of-fact. Don’t catastrophize it — that can make you look either paranoid, or beleaguered and confused. You need not be either. You just say, “Some people have told me they think I’m too pushy (or too whatever), and I appreciate their feedback.”
- Validate the feedback. So you could continue the statement above by saying, “I’m aiming to get results (or whatever it is you are aiming for), and I can see how sometimes that feels like I’m too pushy (or too whatever).”
- Appreciate that there is almost always a countervailing value to the one you seem to (some to be) overdoing. Value that countervailing value. So, if you’re seen to be too abstract, recognize that you need others who are concrete. If you’re skeptical and risk averse, know that you need creative risk-taking. If you’re all about kindness to everyone on the team, let them know you also know you need (others to help you) to keep a vigilant eye on the facts and logic. Share with others that you see the countervailing value that they may feel is threatened.
- Clearly, strongly and symbolically show your willingness and ability to change. Remember where we started here: People get an opinion and they fix it! So, to create change in an established perception, you must tack pretty hard. If you’re the skeptic, you need to make a big trusting move (at a time you can). If you’re the open-ended manager, and it’s time to come to closure, you need to strongly and clearly CLOSE! If you know you run roughshod over people in your passion for results, you need to find a time when you really celebrate a victory, or you say to someone, “go home. It’s 4:00, but you guys have been killing it.” The impression needs to be big. Genuine? Yes. Betraying your key value? No. Pretending you won’t go back to your key — but perhaps overplayed — value? No. But genuine, strong, and clear.
Leaders want win-wins to occur. And they are almost always asking others to change. Showing your own flexibility and desire for a win-win is a powerful way to
Lead with your best self.