Last night I did a presentation at the PYO Gallery in the South Park area of Downtown LA on “The Art of Connecting.” I employed concepts from the art world like perspective, shading (shades of meaning), setting, style, and taste to networking. It was the first time I have given such a presentation, and it was very well received. I discussed the importance of building a strong personal relationship prior to trying to build a business relationship. The gallery is relatively small, and had the works of one artist, but it had a the feeling of spaciousness. I collaborated with the jeweler Claudia Endler and gallery owner Heidi Chang. Connecting really is an art, and you need to be versatile and open-minded in order to connect with a wide variety of people. There is no substitute for being a genuinely interested listener, and also to be interesting when you are speaking. We all have different communication styles: some are story tellers, while others focus on the reporting of events without much detail. In my presentation, I emphasized the importance of follow-up in networking, and that it sometimes takes a long time for a fruitful relationship to develop. You need to develop some type of personal connection with others beyond business topics. In all, the goal was to bring together people from widely diverse worlds and find a common ground. By providing a warm and welcoming environment with free appetizers and drinks, we had a high level of success. Not only did we have our invited guests, but a number of people who were walking around in the area came in and were interested in the topic.
When we are asked to describe ourselves and our business in a brief “elevator speech,” it is important to be succinct, clear, memorable and impactful. Who are we, what is the essence of our business, and what makes us unique? In giving an elevator speech, some people are reluctant to say things about themselves which might be perceived as egotistical or bragging. We don’t usually describe ourselves as wonderful, charismatic or lovable. But what if we are any of those things and other things by which others describe us?
Our own self-perception might be quite positive, and we might even have a very accurate sense about how others perceive us. However, we don’t want to seem too egotistical. For example, there are many things that people have said about me and my positive attributes as a commercial relocation manager. I have been told that I am: easy to work with, helpful and empathic. How can I communicate those attributes (if indeed they are true) without seeming like a braggart? I can enumerate some of the things I might do for clients, stopping short of “tooting my own horn.”
Humility is usually perceived positively by most people. We can present ourselves in an understated manner, and let others rave about us. The key to this skill is to describe what we do and how we do it that does much to communicate our competence and likeability without overtly bragging about ourselves. If you do an outstanding job then others will do your bragging for you, and you can continue to present yourself as highly competent, a joy to work with and wonderful without coming across as egotistical.
We all have some type of self perception. We might see ourselves as handsome or ugly, bright or average in intelligence, introverted or extroverted, agreeable or disagreeable, easy going or difficult. For some people, their self perception is well developed. However, our self perception might not match the perception of others. You might say “I don’t see myself as bossy, just organized.” Others might perceive you as bossy. It is useful to know the various ways that others perceive you, especially when those perceptions are negative in nature. It is also important to know if we have a positive impact on others. In some cases our perceptions of others change as we get to know them better. It is useful to find out how others perceive us, in order to determine how closely it matches our own self perceptions. For example, if others perceive us as the leader of a group and we don’t perceive ourselves as such, that can explain why people are always coming up to us with questions or problems to be solved. Another common example is when others consider us unapproachable, and we perceive ourselves as welcoming and approachable. In this case our positive self-perception is negated by the feelings and perceptions of others. There is no objective truth in this situation, but differing views of reality.
The concept of self perception or self-schema refers to physical size and shape, personality, intelligence, and every aspect of human personality. We might consider ourselves tenacious, while others perceive us as stubborn. Other dimensions include:
Confident OR Arrogant
Friendly OR Glad Hander
Determined OR Pushy
Funny OR Silly
Enthusiastic OR Desperate
Intense OR Anxious
Assertive OR Aggressive
Organized OR Obsessive
Responsible OR Bossy
Punctual OR Over-Anxious
It is unlikely anyone would describe themselves as a braggart, arrogant or a narcissist. One time I confronted a friend whom I perceived to be bragging excessively about his children. He got defensive, claimed that he was not bragging, just proud of his children. So what I perceived as bragging he considered pride. It is useful to ask trusted friends and associates how they perceive you, to be able to bridge the gap between self-perception and perception others have of you. For example, I don’t perceive myself as defensive. However, if I am accused of something I am certain of not doing or being, I might actually become defensive or be perceived as defensive. There is a difference between clarifying one’s feelings and being defensive. This phenomenon is useful in explaining certain types of interpersonal conflicts. In many cases we think we come across as one way, yet others might be put off or annoyed by our demeanor or behavior. It doesn’t mean we have to change, but merely to be aware of these discrepancies.
Another aspect of this phenomenon relates to our private feelings and perceptions. We might be acutely aware of our feelings or attitudes about others, yet they might be unable to detect them. So although we might find someone extremely annoying, they are probably unaware of the subtleties of our feelings about them. In spite of this, we are often self conscious in social settings because we know our true feelings (even though others might not). There is a large variation in terms of how accurately others perceive our true feelings about them. Some people can “read” our nonverbal communication and expressions which we might think we have disguised.
For example, when we don’t like another person, we might demonstrate that dislike by turning away from them or averting our eyes. They may or may not perceive subtle changes in body language. Thus, we might be successful in hiding our true feelings from others. This is especially true in a business setting where negative feelings might not be expressed openly. In other cases we might want others to be aware of our annoyance or dislike.
If you want to determine how others perceive you, ask several people whom you trust how they perceive you in order to validate your own self perception. You could role-play with a close friend or simply ask them what they perceive to be others’ perception of you. In addition, continue to fine tune both your self perception and your perception of others as you change or gather new information.
We can then utilize this new information to help us understand why people relate to us in certain ways and change our behavior that others might find offensive. We often explain certain results incorrectly however. For example, we might think we attained something due to our persistence, while others tell us we were simply the best qualified candidate. In the 2008 United States Presidential election, President Obama was perceived variously as: calm, intelligent, charismatic, inspiring and inexperienced. It would be interesting to find out why he thought he won the election. Attribution theory asks the question, “Why do we think a particular thing happens?” In other words, to what do we attribute the cause of a particular event? A religious person might believe something happened because they prayed for it or because it was God’s will, while a non-religious person attributes a result solely to hard work. A common problem related to attribution of cause is referred to as the fundamental attribution error. This refers to the common tendency for people to over-emphasize personality based explanations for behaviors observed in others while de-emphasizing or not considering situational explanations. In other words, people assume that others’ actions are based more upon what kind of person they are rather than social or environmental forces which might be influencing them. Is someone talkative because they are a “motor mouth” or because they are nervous at meeting their future wife’s family for the first time? Be careful in judging others’ behavior without considering the circumstances. Periodically check your perceptions to be sure you are considering all possible explanations for behavior.