We hear so much about the importance of having a personal brand, but what does that really mean? Put simply, your brand is your reputation, which is the culmination of almost everything you have ever done and said. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
The reality is, you already have a reputation and you are being “branded” whether you are consciously involved in the process or not. The challenge is to build a reputation on your terms, a personal brand that is congruent with the way you would like to be perceived. This of course raises the question of the extent to which you know how others see you. Are you aware of how your words and actions might enhance or detract from the way people perceive you overall?
More to the point, how would you like others to describe you? One of the best ways to gain clarity about how you want others to think of you is to write down five words or phrases that you would like to be attached to your personal description. These could be anything from “I would like to be seen as having initiative,” to “being a team player,” to “being trustworthy and resourceful.”
Once you have a clear picture of the qualities you want attributed to you, start to think about actions you have taken to demonstrate those qualities. You may discover that there is a disconnect between how you want to be perceived and what you actually do to demonstrate those qualities.
The reality is that your skills, knowledge and consistency contribute to your brand as much as every other aspect of your persona. These include the following:
- How you show up in meetings, how you present information, and how you dress. This aspect of your brand is your physical presence.
- How you answer your phone, write and respond to emails, and manage your social media. This aspect of your brand is your virtual presence.
- Your ability to manage conflict skillfully and handle both difficult people and difficult interactions. This is your interpersonal presence.
- Your ability to network and build mutually beneficial relationships. This component of your brand is your social presence.
Do you use all of these components as skillfully as you could? Or could you, as famed chef Emeril Lagasse says, “kick it up a notch” — especially when it comes to your interpersonal presence?
Whether you are an owner, manager, therapist or trainee, your ability to deal with people and conflict is critical to your personal and professional success.
In Own Your Space, we focus on this a lot because the way you deal with conflict is an integral part of your personal brand. You can be the most articulate, perfectly groomed individual, however the image you create in someone’s mind is that you are conflict orientated, defensive, a problem exacerbater, not a problem solver. And that becomes part of your brand. Remember, everything you and say communicates.
One of the greatest tools we possess is to truly listen and be present. Do not underestimate the power of being an attentive listener.
One of the exercises we ask you to try out next time you are in a conversation is to ask questions around what the other person is saying, such as, “tell me more about that” or “how did that make you feel?” Challenge yourself to never use the “I” word. The point here is to focus on the other person and to not relate anything back to yourself. This is not to say that you should never relate a topic back to your experiences: rather, focusing on yourself usually means not giving the other person your full attention. In developing masterful communication skills, the ability to listen is as important as the ability to speak with competence, clarity and charisma.
Poet and author Maya Angelou put it magnificently when she said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Indeed, a manager’s ability to make employees feel valued and heard is critical to productivity and motivation.
In the Executive Presence keynotes and workshops we conduct both in the US and South Africa, another thing we keep hearing is this: There is no one factor that sabotages a career more than an individual’s inability to handle conflict skilfully. Take a moment to think of the last time you were engaged in a conflict situation: What was the outcome? Did you handle it as well as you could have? Did the other person? What was the outcome?
In the words of prominent American author Donnell King, “interpersonal communication is inescapable, irreversible, complex and contextual. It’s inescapable because we’re dealing with other people, irreversible because we cannot take back what we say, complex because things get lost in translation and contextual because when and where you speak will impact on the meaning of your message and how it is received.”
One can say the same thing about conflict: it is also inescapable and complex. Because conflict arises when one person’s ideas, concerns or desires differ from those of another, it’s almost entirely unavoidable. However, skilfully and creatively managed conflict can also be a positive force. Rather than contending with employees who are sullen and resentful, you could be the beneficiary of a self-confident, innovative, and most importantly, productive team.
Managers are primed to act quickly and decisively, so the advice that follows could be counter-intuitive: When you find yourself faced with conflict, the first step is to take a step backwards. Don’t react immediately, but also take care not to ignore the issue in the hopes that it will resolve itself. Indeed, conflicts that are not addressed are likely to fester and can cause long-term problems.
Conflict management is also about timing. If you need to resolve a conflict, or if you sense that a conflict is brewing, be selective about the timing of your conversation. When the person you need to have that conversation with is stressed out, defensive, distracted, or in full “fight or flight” mode, it’s not the right time to confront or engage.
How you start the conversation is also critical. Defensiveness is the enemy of collaboration, and you’ll have little chance of a resolution if the person you’re talking to feels under attack. Neutrality allows for a mature, open and honest discussion.
Conflict resolution is rarely clear-cut or black and white. In fact, there are more and more gray areas as the workplace becomes more generationally and culturally diverse than ever before.
We see things differently because of our different backgrounds — our different cultures, religions, philosophies and personalities. One of the most powerful things you can do is respect these differences. Instead of imposing your hierarchy or rank, value the unique differences in people and learn to see things from differing points of view so that you can understand how to avoid conflict better in the future.
As we are heading further into 2016, it is a great time to assess which aspects your overall brand you want to develop further. The most important thing for all of us to remember is that everything we do and everything we say communicates. The key is to develop the self-awareness to be in control of both.