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Projecting a favorable personal image.

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 recognition.

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 "businesslike.'

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 rational solution.

You could be labeled "competitive.' In this case, you are probably so competitive that you envy the accomplishments of others and practice one-upmanship.

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 physicians.

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 supervisors.

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, collaborative problem-solver.

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 unsolicited judgments.

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 image.

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 goals.

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
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roseman, Ed
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Dec 1, 1984
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