Projecting a favorable personal image
Your staff and colleagues continually judge you. From your words
and 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 many
impressions, but it is often distorted by a relatively small number of
outstanding 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. Figure
I lists typical unfavorable images and the types of behavior that tend
to create them.
For example, you could be labeled “uncooperative’ for a
variety of reasons. You may occasionally have set out to be
obstructive, perhaps because you strongly opposed someone’s plans.
At other times, you may have withheld assistance because of doubts about
a proposed project. Possibly, you postponed action because you lacked
enthusiasm for the specific tasks you had to complete.
Betty is a laboratory supervisor accused by technologists of being
uncooperative. Actually, she is a victim of self-doubt. When the staff
asked for help in learning more about the lab’s new computer
system, 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 to
meet commitments or only partially fulfilling them. Faced with a heavy
workload, you might forget an obligation or do a slipshod job in
carrying it out.
Robert, a conscientious, hardworking supervisor, became unreliable
in the eyes of others after just a single incident. He volunteered to
back up a vacationing fellow supervisor, but offered little more than
hasty 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 accepted
praise for their accomplishments without giving them deserved
That’s what Mel, a chief technologist, did more than a year
ago, and it seems as if he can never make up for the slight. His
pathologist had officially commended him for maintaining high-quality
laboratory services in the face of an extremely heavy workload. Mel
failed to acknowledge the contributions of his supervisors. He
didn’t even bother to thank them.
An “irritable’ label attaches if you smile rarely and
grow angry when employees don’t measure up to your high
expectations. Maybe you’re a no-nonsense person, equally demanding
of yourself and others, intolerant of behavior that is not
That’s the case with Marilyn. Although she is only in her
early thirties, the staff calls her “old sourpuss.’ She tends
to be stern whenever anybody makes a mistake. Preferring to mind her
own 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 unexplainable
reversals in opinions and attitudes.
This has become a major problem for Helen, a supervisor in a small
laboratory where the staff works together closely. Subordinates and
colleagues are wary of her. She tends to be very reactive, trying to
solve problems immediately without adequate fact finding and analysis.
Only later, when she calms down, does she tend to come up with a
You could be labeled “competitive.’ In this case, you are
probably so competitive that you envy the accomplishments of others and
Todd’s competitiveness has raised concern among the other
supervisors in his laboratory. He sees himself as the successor to the
lab manager, who plans to retire next year. Todd’s group
consistently performs well; he makes sure everybody knows it. He is
outspoken at staff meetings and actively courts the support of the staff
There you have it. Whether deserved or not, once you get an
unfavorable image, you may face major consequences:
You won’t be liked. While you may not care to win a
popularity contest in the laboratory, you probably would rather not be
unpopular. It doesn’t help your career or your effectiveness.
Nobody at work is fond of Beverly. She doesn’t feel like an
accepted member of the section she supervises or of the laboratory.
Everyone is cordial, but she feels the distance between herself and the
others. Beverly realizes that she prefers to do her job and not get
“too friendly.’ However, she is uncomfortable in the position
of an outsider. She wishes she could find a happy medium.
You won’t get full support. Your subordinates and colleagues
probably won’t be deliberately uncooperative. Nevertheless, you
may 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 fellow
You will be ignored. Others in the laboratory may not pay
attention 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 attention
to her comments at staff meetings. When she speaks, they tend to
interrupt and introduce unrelated topics.
You may be attacked. Of course, you won’t be physically
harmed, but you may get pushed around verbally. An unfavorable image
makes you a convenient target.
Andrew, a target in his laboratory for the past two years, is at
the center of a lot of conflict. He would like to overcome the
interpersonal problems created by his lack of popularity.
Fortunately, it is possible to change your image by following
certain dos and don’ts (Figure II). Let’s take a closer look
at these important guidelines:
Give help willingly. When your staff and colleagues realize that
you will not only cooperate but go out of your way to help, you begin to
project a more favorable image. That’s what Sam has done in his
laboratory. He jumps to assist others and is an effective,
Treat others with concern. All of us are somewhat
self-interested, and we appreciate it when others share this
self-interest. We want associates to be sensitive to our feelings. We
expect them to pay attention to our problems.
Susan is a 28-year-old supervisor. Her technologists lovingly call
her 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, frustrating
situations are commonplace. Stat orders pile up, complaints abound, and
employees become frazzled.
This is the kind of atmosphere in which a supervisor with
Carol’s even disposition shines. She remains calm, cool, and
relaxed when everyone else is frantic.
Let others talk. People love to talk to anybody who will really
listen. It makes them feel good just to put forth their problems to an
understanding and attentive companion. Unfortunately, many of us
don’t listen. Instead, we tack our own thoughts and opinions onto
what 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 of
listening. Others freely confide in her and discuss their troubles. She
doesn’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 want
people to say nice things about us and single out our accomplishments
–both small and large. We appreciate a tangible gesture of approval
and recognition, provided it’s truly genuine and not patronizing.
Lila excels in the ability to give well-timed and legitimate
praise. She acknowledges the accomplishments of subordinates and others
in the laboratory.
Don’t put others down. If you could wander around the
laboratory unobserved and listen to benchside conversations, you would
hear 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. We
don’t like to be reminded of our deficiencies or to receive
Tom has damaged his image in the laboratory by being too willing to
judge others. He usually prefaces his frequent criticisms with the
statement, “I’m only telling you this for your own good.’
Nevertheless, the targets of this “friendly’ advice don’t
accept it as helpful.
Don’t disregard others’ feelings. Sensitivity
permeates the typical laboratory, possibly as a byproduct of an
unusually demanding profession. The staff is expected to perform a
large number of tests flawlessly and rapidly. This kind of work
environment may fray tempers and keep communication short. Not
surprisingly, anyone who disregards the high level of feelings and
doesn’t think before he or she speaks, is likely to earn a negative
Don’t threaten. This is especially important for laboratory
supervisors. You have the power to negatively affect the compensation,
promotion, and continuing employment of subordinates. This power is
frequently 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. I
definitely will not put up with your constant bickering.’
Flexing your supervisory muscle won’t help you project a
positive image. Employees know you have authority. You needn’t
remind them of that to get them to do their job.
Don’t try to force solutions. Impatience may prompt you to
tell subordinates how to solve problems and pressure them to adopt your
solutions. While this may be tolerable in an emergency situation, it
should not expand into a standard approach.
Even the most dependent subordinates want to solve some of their
own problems. Usurping their responsibility tends to make them feel
inadequate. They don’t feel good about themselves or about you.
Don’t pursue self-interests exclusively. You project a
negative image when others feel that you’re primarily interested in
protecting your own self-interests. When group and personal interests
conflict, you may have to sacrifice your personal concerns. If you
don’t, you’re liable to be viewed as looking out only for
yourself. Ideally, you should marry personal and group interests. That
way, when you further group interests, you also advance toward personal
If you consider these dos and don’ts as you go about your
daily business, you will build a favorable image. Laboratory life will
become more pleasant. You will be a more effective supervisor, and
everyone will be happier.
Table: Figure I How unfavorable images are shaped
Table: Figure II Image-changing dos and don’ts