What your prospects, clients and employees are thinking in key moments when you aren’t paying attention
Imagine this: You’re in a hurry. You’ve got to go to the bank, the post office, and the printer and be back in the office in time for the computer repair specialist. You see one open parking space. Another car is slowly, haltingly coming towards the same space.
You decide that they are not really interested in the space and zoom into it, jumping out of your car and running into the bank. Out of the corner of your eye you see the other driver’s upset face.
You’re a good person, but hey, it’s a busy world and you have things to do, so you convince yourself it’s not really a problem.
Now imagine this:
Later that day you go to an event in your community where you hope to promote your business. Several people there know you and know what a dedicated, service-oriented person you are. One such person introduces you to a newcomer to the group who slowly shakes your hand and says with narrowed eyes, Oh I know you. You’re the one who took my parking space at the bank this morning.
Whether you are a small business owner or an executive in a large company, you are always visible and therefore always available for judgment. Why? Because the human brain is programmed to create patterns from bits of data, and like it or not, intentional, or not, your behaviors and actions are data points. Even seemingly small moments of discourtesy can create a lasting impression.
- A collection of moments is a collection of data points
You would never tell your employees to answer the phone with Hey, I’m busy! What do you want? and most professionals would never do that. But a harried employee might have a tone of voice where the subtext says that very thing. For example, my doctor is very good and therefore he is very busy.
When I call the office to book an appointment, one of the women always sighs and says in a put-upon voice. Hold on, let me see what’s open. Now, I go into my head and add other data points and interpret her subtext as You’re creating a big inconvenience for me.
Here’s a very different example:
I have lunch in a busy café whenever I’m in that neighborhood maybe once or twice a month. The waitresses always greet me like an old friend no matter how busy they are. They smile, they make eye contact, and they say things like Where’ve you been? We missed you! And guess what? My pattern-happy brain has decided that this is a great place and I want to come here.
- People will connect the dots in the way that makes sense to them.
Each of us has a history, a set of experiences, a set of values, and a perspective that is uniquely our own. When we experience moments like those described above, we add them to the vast stores of data in our brains. Since each of us is different, we connect those moments to existing patterns and interpretations.
Thus, I might interpret the medical receptionist’s behavior as thoughtless and uncaring, while someone else might see her as overworked, and still another person would not even notice any subtext. Again, we will connect the dots in the way that makes to us, and most of the time we don’t question our assumptions.
- Your pattern becomes the truth about you in their eyes.
Branding is the combination of frequency plus repetition. If you put enough data points out there, people will come to some strong conclusions about you, fair or unfair, positive, or negative, true, or not.
Research shows that once people make up their mind about something, it is very difficult to change it even when they are presented with facts supporting a different interpretation.
What should you do?
- Be self-aware.
Pay attention to your face, your voice, and your actions, especially when you are rushed or stressed. What data points are you putting out there?
- Be other-conscious.
Your behavior is probably impeccable when you’re on the phone with a prospect or client. Carry that forward. How do you want people to feel when they’ve shared a moment with you on the highway, or in line at the market?
- Be consistent.
Choose specific adjectives you want people to use when they talk about you, and then embody those in your words and deeds consistently.
It is possible for people to form positive impressions about you as long as you are mindful about the moments you create along the way.