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Know the Gap in how you Appear

20 July 2022

This will sound obvious, but there is a gap between how you think you appear to others and how others perceive you.  At a subconscious level all of us know this and most of the time in our daily interactions we stumble through well enough that this gap doesn't have too adverse an impact.

The gap in perception is created through a whole bunch of things that impact the way others interpret you, including:

What you actually say and do - it is often different to what you think you say and do
The stereotypes and assumptions others hold (usually unconsciously)
Others past experiences with you (even if these are just fleeting first impressions)
The stuff that is going on for the other person (e.g. how distracted they are, their own life issues...)
The environment in which they are perceiving you
This gap becomes problematic when it is amplified in the context of a job interview (or other high stakes situation), where you want to intentionally show up and be perceived positively.

It is therefore useful to become more aware of how you come across to others so you can make small adjustments to close the gap between how you want to be perceived and how you actually are.  Here are a few ideas that take a bit of courage, but can really help you bridge this perception gap:

Give people who know you a slip of paper with the statement on it: If I didn't know you so well, I would think that you were _______________.  Ask them to complete the sentence, then (with openness) ask them why.
People who have only recently met you, and haven't yet become blind to you physical quirks, are a great source of information about your unconscious actions.  Ask them: What habits have you noticed about me that I might be unconscious about?  E.g. Do I frown when I say hello...
Experiment with trying to be perceived in a certain way (e.g. be more friendly in meetings), then at the end of the encounter ask others (who you trust) to give you a score for how you went (e.g. How would you score my friendliness in that meeting?).  
Ask someone to observe you, and make notes, on the way you show up in a specific situation (e.g. when you engage with customers, or when you talk with your team...).  Stay curious as they share their notes.
In interviews you only get one chance to make a first impression - make sure you are not hampered by a huge gap between the way you think you are showing up and how you are perceived. 

As always, wishing you a flourishing career.


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