Have you considered your professional image at work and how you are perceived by coworkers?
This is an important point to reflect on in order to put yourself in an ideal position for career growth.
Your professional image is one of the main factors that is considered, many times subconsciously, when your performance is evaluated by leadership.
So let's go over how you can cultivate a strong professional image to set yourself up for success.
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What is a Professional Image?
Your professional image is the set of qualities and characteristics that propel perceptions of your character, as well as competence, at work.
It is important to distinguish that this is your perceived image by others, which oftentimes is different than how you think you are being perceived.
You must carefully observe how your behavior influences your coworkers and the responses you receive. Both verbal and nonverbal.
You can also ask for feedback from coworkers you trust.
By being perceptive and asking for feedback you can be more confident that you understand how your coworkers perceive you.
Your professional image is all about managing relationships effectively in the workplace in order to cultivate the right perception.
Your professional image also drives how your coworkers interact with you.
Whether your coworkers are supportive, helpful, receptive to your point of view, and willing to be led by you is all dependent on your professional image.
Why is Your Professional Image Important?
Your overall work performance is evaluated primarily on two factors: your technical performance and your professional image.
Your technical performance encompasses your ability to “do the job”.
Completing the tasks and projects you are assigned with proficiency while demonstrating a strong capability of the hard skills required.
Most people understand that your technical performance is very important at work.
Your manager discusses it as your performance reviews, your quality of work is judged by the team when you hand in deliverables, the company sends you to training to help further develop hard skills, etc.
Unfortunately, your professional image at work doesn’t receive as much attention when discussing career development.
It’s like an invisible elephant in the room.
People sense that there is something holding them back from the next step but they can’t quite pinpoint what it is.
Even though their technical performance is outstanding they are not seeing the career growth they want.
Without a great professional image, you’ll eventually hit a ceiling in terms of career growth.
Most commonly, it becomes very difficult to break into a management or leadership position. And progress upward from there.
This is because managing your professional image is even more critical in leadership positions. Because you are leading people. And their perception of their leader matters.
So if you are eager to progress in your career and feel “held back”, it may be time to take a look at your professional image.
Specifically, we will go over a few things to focus on in order to help cultivate the best professional image for the workplace.
How to Create a Positive Professional Image at Work
There are many things you can do in order to create a positive professional image.
The fastest way to kick-start a positive professional image is to really focus on taking action on the 9 qualities described below.
I recommend picking a couple qualities every week to focus on until each one becomes a habit and second nature.
1. Meet Your Commitments
Meeting your commitments is absolutely the most important thing to do in order to build a good reputation at work.
None of the other qualities discussed below will make up for an individual who consistently fails to meet their commitments at work.
People rely on you in the workplace in order to meet their own objectives and commitments.
Therefore, when you fail to meet a commitment to a team or a coworker you often create a ripple effect. Others miss their commitments. And as a result, the business suffers.
Meeting your commitments to coworkers is the ultimate sign of respect.
Being known as a dependable person at work cultivates a highly respectable professional image.
In order to meet your commitments, it is important to commit to realistic time frames and consider your workload as a whole.
Do not over commit. That is a recipe for disaster.
People often feel pressure to commit to aggressive deadlines in order to impress coworkers and leadership. Or to satisfy them in their desire to get things done quickly.
The reality is that a deadline means nothing if it is not met.
If you are challenged that a deadline is not aggressive enough, it is important to have a conversation so that the coworker understand why it will take a certain amount of time.
When the WHY is understood, it is easier to accept the proposal.
2. Provide Recognition and Positive Feedback to Coworkers
We all want to be recognized when we do a good job.
Unfortunately, too many employees believe that their recognition doesn’t matter.
That the only recognition that matters to their coworkers is recognition from leadership.
This is simply untrue.
Positive feedback and recognition triggers positive emotions in an individual, regardless who it is coming from.
If someone achieved an incredible milestone or went above and beyond, tell them.
Even better, do it in a team meeting in front of others.
Your voice at work matters. And when it is used to lift others up, your reputation soars.
You should always strive to provide recognition in person for big wins.
For minor successes, such as a coworker e-mailing you vital information on an aggressive deadline make sure to respond positively.
Thank you so much! You have no idea how incredibly valuable this is to me. It’s such a pleasure working with you.
Small gestures of positive feedback add up and build your professional image.
3. Develop Personal Relationships with Coworkers
Personal relationships with coworkers are so incredibly important.
We often forget that the people we work with are, well, people.
The majority of their lives are outside of work. The things that interest them, people they care about, activities they love.
These are the things that really matter to your coworkers.
If you show genuine interest and curiosity about the things that matter to your coworkers, they will be more invested in you and your needs.
The key here is that you have to be genuine.
Anyone faking interest can be spotted a mile away. And frankly, it is best to show no interest than faking interest.
If you are not genuine about it, coworkers may perceive you as manipulative. Or narcissistic.
You don’t want either of those labels.
There is at least one thing you can connect about with anyone. Find that one thing.
Or many things.
4. Show Personality
A running criticism of corporate America is that you have to be “sterile”.
This is untrue.
Whether you are in a start-up or a large corporation, showing your personality is a good thing.
Yes, you should always stay professional.
And there are moments where you have to be a bit more “sterile” than others. Such as business-critical meetings with upper leadership or external clients.
But in daily interactions with your coworkers and manager, you should play up your personality.
Share your humor. Express your style (within the dress code). Share your interests and stories.
This allows you to develop those personal connections much easier.
5. Find Ways to Help
We all have moments at work when things are slow.
When our workload is not filling up our day.
In these moments, find ways to help your coworkers.
When one employee has a low workload there is another employee who is struggling to keep their head above water.
Reach out and offer your time.
By offering your time, you are not just helping reduce their workload but you are also empathizing.
Empathy is the most powerful thing you can do when a person is stressed.
6. Provide an Alternative When Saying “No”
It is perfectly acceptable to say “no” in the workplace.
In fact, it is critical to do so in order to properly prioritize your commitments.
But it is important to provide your coworkers with an alternative when you are saying “no”.
Point them to another individual that could help or another resource they could consider.
This demonstrates your desire to help, even if you cannot fulfill their request.
Learn more about how to say no politely in the workplace in this article.
7. Make Coworkers Look Good in Front of Leadership
Everyone wants to look good in front of the boss.
We all strive to put our best foot forward when we know that the audience will include important leadership.
The opportunity to look good in front of leadership is so important to every employee. Because everyone wants to advance their career.
So support your coworkers in their desires. Help them achieve what they are striving for.
Make them look good in front of leadership.
If they are presenting at an important meeting, ask them questions you know they prepared for. Or ones where you recognize they will be able to humbly brag.
For example, if you are in a meeting where the coworker is presenting a recommendation and you know they have considered various factors you can ask them:
Have you considered the impact this will have on X?
A question like this will allow them to demonstrate their competence and preparedness to leadership.
Another way to make coworkers look good in front of leadership is to simply provide positive feedback to leadership about coworkers.
You can do this as a side comment during a conversation
Julie has been so incredibly helpful in helping me achieve this
Or for a larger milestone, send leadership a private email detailing how well your coworker managed a task.
Providing positive feedback to leadership on coworkers not only reflects well for your coworkers, but it also reflects well on you. Two birds with one stone.
8. Respect Different Points of View
Different points of view are absolutely essential for the business to function.
The criticality of it is covered in detail in this post about teamwork.
We always hope that everyone will agree with our recommendations and opinions.
But that is not realistic. Nor would it be a good thing.
The business thrives when diverse perspectives and ideas are shared.
It is important to recognize that when you encourage different points of view, you are driving the business forward.
As well as supporting your coworkers. And cultivating your positive professional image.
So when coworkers share a different point of view, make sure to take the time to understand it in depth.
Ask them questions. Show curiosity. Be genuine in your desire to consider every point of view.
Empathy is simply demonstrating that you understand other people’s positions.
It does not mean you must agree with them or show sympathy.
To show empathy, have a genuine curiosity for how people think and why they hold certain opinions.
Ask then questions that start with “How” before jumping in to share your thoughts.
How do you think we can do that?
How can we implement this
How does that work?
How would you approach it?
Another good communication approach to showing empathy is called labeling and is taught in Chris Voss’ book Never Split the Difference, which I highly recommend.
Labeling is simply stating what you have observed in the conversation beginning with “it sounds like” or “it seems like”.
For example, in a meeting where you are trying to understand someone’s recommendation you can state
It seems like you don’t think investing in social media is a good idea
This technique anchors the other person’s feelings. It shows them that you understand them.
That you empathize.
So those are my tips on how to cultivate a great professional image at work!
Tell me your other tips below!