Office politics #7

WHAT DO PEOPLE THINK OF YOU?

Here we go again! Appraisal time and you know you're going to get the same old feedback - you're not confident enough, you need to take more initiative and there's a long way to go before you're ready for the next step. You wouldn't mind so much if you hadn't been making a real effort. But you seem to be branded. What do you need to do to make people recognise that you have potential and, what's more, you're ready to do more now? Time to change your reputation.

How do you know what your reputation is?

There's a lot of talk about the need for regular feedback. But in reality, most people don't find out what others think about them until appraisal time. So what do people think about you? You might have a gut feeling, just from the way that people treat you. You could be unlucky enough to hear bad news about yourself on the grapevine! Alternatively, it might come from inside: you're frustrated with your own limitations and your inability to get on. Wherever it comes from, it's important to check it out. Frequently people form impressions of you from one incident. You need to know whether that's the case, or is it something you do all the time? If you want a new image, you have to stamp out the old.

What does your new image look like?

So how do you want to be perceived in the brave new world? Do you want to project a positive, professional image - someone who's going places? Visualise your new self. What do you look like? What sort of things will you say - and do? Once you have a strong mental picture of your future self, hold on to that image. Conjure it up regularly. Start to act in accordance with it: say the right things, wear the right clothes.

You need to market yourself. Who do you want to impress? Who should you come into contact with and in what form? You don't always want to bump into the managing director as you're going into the local pub. Perhaps you need to join some associations instead.

How do you shift the old perceptions?

It's very difficult to shift someone's impression of you. But somehow you're going to have to get out of that pigeon hole. Address it with the individual concerned: this is what I'm aiming to do, these are my goals, please give me feedback. But don't leave it to chance - or to others to recognise how the new you is coming along. Make a note of your own successes. And make others recognise that you've changed.

It's likely to be a frustrating process. Research shows that it can take up to eight months before other people are prepared to acknowledge the change formally. But be patient

John Nicholson and Jane Clarke are directors of Nicholson McBride, the business psychology consultancy.

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