Projecting a favorable personal image Essay

Projecting a favorable personal image Your staff and colleagues continually judge you. From your wordsand actions, they form a mental image of the kind of person you are.This image may be inaccurate.

It is based on the sum of manyimpressions, but it is often distorted by a relatively small number ofoutstanding impressions –particularly negative ones. Some of the things you say or do may offend onlookers. Thus,without realizing it, you acquire a destructive, negative label. FigureI lists typical unfavorable images and the types of behavior that tendto create them. For example, you could be labeled “uncooperative’ for avariety of reasons. You may occasionally have set out to beobstructive, perhaps because you strongly opposed someone’s plans.At other times, you may have withheld assistance because of doubts abouta proposed project. Possibly, you postponed action because you lackedenthusiasm for the specific tasks you had to complete.

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Betty is a laboratory supervisor accused by technologists of beinguncooperative. Actually, she is a victim of self-doubt. When the staffasked for help in learning more about the lab’s new computersystem, she backed off with what appeared to be frivolous excuses,rather than admit she didn’t know the system that well. An “unreliable’ tag could stick to you for failing tomeet commitments or only partially fulfilling them.

Faced with a heavyworkload, you might forget an obligation or do a slipshod job incarrying it out. Robert, a conscientious, hardworking supervisor, became unreliablein the eyes of others after just a single incident. He volunteered toback up a vacationing fellow supervisor, but offered little more thanhasty advice when difficulties arose in the leaderless section.

Then again, if you are unresponsive to subordinates’ needs,they may well call you “inconsiderate.’ Perhaps you acceptedpraise for their accomplishments without giving them deservedrecognition. That’s what Mel, a chief technologist, did more than a yearago, and it seems as if he can never make up for the slight. Hispathologist had officially commended him for maintaining high-qualitylaboratory services in the face of an extremely heavy workload.

Melfailed to acknowledge the contributions of his supervisors. Hedidn’t even bother to thank them. An “irritable’ label attaches if you smile rarely andgrow angry when employees don’t measure up to your highexpectations. Maybe you’re a no-nonsense person, equally demandingof yourself and others, intolerant of behavior that is not”businesslike.’ That’s the case with Marilyn. Although she is only in herearly thirties, the staff calls her “old sourpuss.

‘ She tendsto be stern whenever anybody makes a mistake. Preferring to mind herown business, she rarely socializes at breaks or lunch. Emotional displays can earn the label of “unstable.’Perhaps you let your feelings lead to impulsive actions or unexplainablereversals in opinions and attitudes. This has become a major problem for Helen, a supervisor in a smalllaboratory where the staff works together closely. Subordinates andcolleagues are wary of her. She tends to be very reactive, trying tosolve problems immediately without adequate fact finding and analysis.

Only later, when she calms down, does she tend to come up with arational solution. You could be labeled “competitive.’ In this case, you areprobably so competitive that you envy the accomplishments of others andpractice one-upmanship. Todd’s competitiveness has raised concern among the othersupervisors in his laboratory. He sees himself as the successor to thelab manager, who plans to retire next year. Todd’s groupconsistently performs well; he makes sure everybody knows it.

He isoutspoken at staff meetings and actively courts the support of the staffphysicians. There you have it. Whether deserved or not, once you get anunfavorable image, you may face major consequences: You won’t be liked. While you may not care to win apopularity contest in the laboratory, you probably would rather not beunpopular.

It doesn’t help your career or your effectiveness. Nobody at work is fond of Beverly. She doesn’t feel like anaccepted member of the section she supervises or of the laboratory.Everyone is cordial, but she feels the distance between herself and theothers. Beverly realizes that she prefers to do her job and not get”too friendly.’ However, she is uncomfortable in the positionof an outsider. She wishes she could find a happy medium.

You won’t get full support. Your subordinates and colleaguesprobably won’t be deliberately uncooperative. Nevertheless, youmay encounter a frustrating lack of enthusiasm and commitment. Bob, a laboratory supervisor for over five years, complains about”foot dragging.’ When he asks the staff for an extra effort,they seem to hold back.

He also gets few favors from his fellowsupervisors. You will be ignored. Others in the laboratory may not payattention to your opinions or respond to your suggestions.

In fact,they may not even be willing to listen to them. Louise knows this feeling all too well. Nobody pays much attentionto her comments at staff meetings. When she speaks, they tend tointerrupt and introduce unrelated topics. You may be attacked. Of course, you won’t be physicallyharmed, but you may get pushed around verbally. An unfavorable imagemakes you a convenient target. Andrew, a target in his laboratory for the past two years, is atthe center of a lot of conflict.

He would like to overcome theinterpersonal problems created by his lack of popularity. Fortunately, it is possible to change your image by followingcertain dos and don’ts (Figure II). Let’s take a closer lookat these important guidelines: Give help willingly. When your staff and colleagues realize thatyou will not only cooperate but go out of your way to help, you begin toproject a more favorable image. That’s what Sam has done in hislaboratory. He jumps to assist others and is an effective,collaborative problem-solver.

Treat others with concern. All of us are somewhatself-interested, and we appreciate it when others share thisself-interest. We want associates to be sensitive to our feelings. Weexpect them to pay attention to our problems. Susan is a 28-year-old supervisor. Her technologists lovingly callher a “mother hen.

‘ She cares about them, worries about them,protects them. She is always there when needed. Be patient. In the hectic world of the laboratory, frustratingsituations are commonplace. Stat orders pile up, complaints abound, andemployees become frazzled. This is the kind of atmosphere in which a supervisor withCarol’s even disposition shines. She remains calm, cool, andrelaxed when everyone else is frantic. Let others talk.

People love to talk to anybody who will reallylisten. It makes them feel good just to put forth their problems to anunderstanding and attentive companion. Unfortunately, many of usdon’t listen. Instead, we tack our own thoughts and opinions ontowhat others are saying. A conversation then becomes a”duologue’–two monologues taking place at the same time. Eleanor is a popular supervisor because she knows the value oflistening. Others freely confide in her and discuss their troubles.

Shedoesn’t try to assume their burdens or to solve their problems.She’s just willing to hear them out. Give deserved praise. All of us need to be stroked. We wantpeople to say nice things about us and single out our accomplishments–both small and large. We appreciate a tangible gesture of approvaland recognition, provided it’s truly genuine and not patronizing. Lila excels in the ability to give well-timed and legitimatepraise.

She acknowledges the accomplishments of subordinates and othersin the laboratory. Don’t put others down. If you could wander around thelaboratory unobserved and listen to benchside conversations, you wouldhear a surprisingly large number of put-downs: “You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ “You’re always complaining about something.

‘ “You’re too sensitive.’ “You’re too emotional.’ “You’re always asking for help.’ Obviously, disparaging others doesn’t enhance your image.

Most of us are intolerant of criticism, however constructive. Wedon’t like to be reminded of our deficiencies or to receiveunsolicited judgments. Tom has damaged his image in the laboratory by being too willing tojudge others. He usually prefaces his frequent criticisms with thestatement, “I’m only telling you this for your own good.’Nevertheless, the targets of this “friendly’ advice don’taccept it as helpful.

Don’t disregard others’ feelings. Sensitivitypermeates the typical laboratory, possibly as a byproduct of anunusually demanding profession. The staff is expected to perform alarge number of tests flawlessly and rapidly. This kind of workenvironment may fray tempers and keep communication short.

Notsurprisingly, anyone who disregards the high level of feelings anddoesn’t think before he or she speaks, is likely to earn a negativeimage. Don’t threaten. This is especially important for laboratorysupervisors. You have the power to negatively affect the compensation,promotion, and continuing employment of subordinates. This power isfrequently abused when one delivers an implied threat: “You’d better finish these tests today.’ “I won’t put up with sloppy record keeping.

‘ “You and Ann work out your own problems, or else. Idefinitely will not put up with your constant bickering.’ Flexing your supervisory muscle won’t help you project apositive image.

Employees know you have authority. You needn’tremind them of that to get them to do their job. Don’t try to force solutions. Impatience may prompt you totell subordinates how to solve problems and pressure them to adopt yoursolutions. While this may be tolerable in an emergency situation, itshould not expand into a standard approach. Even the most dependent subordinates want to solve some of theirown problems. Usurping their responsibility tends to make them feelinadequate.

They don’t feel good about themselves or about you. Don’t pursue self-interests exclusively. You project anegative image when others feel that you’re primarily interested inprotecting your own self-interests. When group and personal interestsconflict, you may have to sacrifice your personal concerns.

If youdon’t, you’re liable to be viewed as looking out only foryourself. Ideally, you should marry personal and group interests. Thatway, when you further group interests, you also advance toward personalgoals.

If you consider these dos and don’ts as you go about yourdaily business, you will build a favorable image. Laboratory life willbecome more pleasant. You will be a more effective supervisor, andeveryone will be happier. Table: Figure I How unfavorable images are shaped Table: Figure II Image-changing dos and don’ts


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