We might not like it, but how we project ourselves at work will
have as much impact on our career as what we actually do,
writes Nathalie Towner. Image,
apparently, really does count. Fifty-five per cent of a first
impression is based on looks, 38 per cent on our voice and a mere 7
per cent on what we say, according to research by psychologist
Albert Mehrabian. Everything from how we move, what we say and how
we respond in different situations will help people form an
impression of who we are. Luckily we can work at improving our
image by focusing on a few key areas.
How do I look?
Social workers are in the public eye and their image is
under constant scrutiny. “We’re employed by a public agency and go
out representing the council so you need to think about how you
dress and present yourself to people,” says Christina Petrino, unit
manager for the looked-after children team at Oxfordshire social
services. It is important to adapt to different environments. “If
you are in court you’ll need to be smart and in the office you need
to be presentable,” says Petrino. “But if you are visiting children
you don’t want to create a barrier by appearing too formal.”
When dealing with sensitive situations it is important to
be aware of how we come across. Posture and facial expressions are
particularly key, says communications expert Dawn Winder, who works
with clients in the public and private sectors. “Try to keep an
open posture, so don’t cross your arms and always turn round to
look at someone when they approach you at your desk,” she says.
“Make eye contact and nod when people speak so they are aware that
you’re listening.” She also recommends learning to respond to other
people’s body language. “Be on the lookout for clues so you can see
how you’re coming across.”
It is important to come across as reliable and responsible. “Always
do what you say you are going to do,” says Petrino. “You don’t want
to let people down and, if you over commit, no one will believe you
can deliver next time.” It is far better to be honest about what
you can achieve. Winder also warns that, although we tend to put a
lot of emphasis on the big tasks, it is the smallest things that
will influence people’s perception of us. “If you’re often late for
work, have a messy desk or take your time responding to e-mails,
people will think you are inconsistent and unreliable,” she says.
Keep it together
However bad a day you are having you should always keep in
control of your emotions. “It’s important to not show your moods as
it unsettles people if they feel you’re not coping and reassures
them if you can keep a sense of calm,” says Petrino. Someone who
often has bad moods will be perceived as unapproachable and
colleagues won’t feel they can share concerns.
It is amazing what a difference a smile can make. Even if you never
speak to some people in your organisation, you can still project a
positive image. “Make a point of saying hello as it’s all too easy
to walk past people in the corridor and never speak,” says Petrino.
It is important to look at people,
ask how they are and exchange a few pleasantries about plans for
the weekend or the weather. If you are open you will find it much
easier to form good working relationships.