Most people at work will think you’re fine . . . until you say something that proves otherwise.
Early in your career, it is important to be aware of how other people perceive your professional image at work. What do I mean by professional image? Simply put, it’s the perception that others have of your behavior at work. It includes your attitude and appearance. Most importantly, it covers what you say during interactions with others
Suppose a leader asks Maria’s manager to describe her performance. She could give two different responses:
- "Maria is productive and driven. She contributes during client meetings and understands our business."
- "Maria is results-oriented and a high achiever that has a significant amount of business acumen, but she intimidates her co-workers because she shouts at people when she’s under pressure.”
While both responses reflect Maria’s positive attributes, which description do you think the leader will remember? You’ve got it, it's probably the second response.
People are most likely to make a mistake at work during everyday interactions with others (from hallway conversations, to team meetings, to one-on-ones). Here’s what you should pay attention to during your next conversation at work.
VolumeThink about it, when you get excited about something, whether you are at home or work, what happens? Naturally, your voice gets louder! The problem is that your excitement can frustrate those working around you.
According to a survey conducted by Olivet Nazarene University, when respondents were asked what annoys them most about their co-workers, 49 percent said it was people that talk too loudly at work. Basically, one out of every two employees is dealing with at least one colleague who speaks too loudly.
EnergyI often hear co-workers remark about the energy of people early in their career. While I realize not all employees are alike, the general feedback is that workers in their 20s exude more energy and are impulsive. Bear in mind, there is nothing wrong with high energy. In fact, organizations would like benefit from having more high-energy employees. However, sometimes high-energy people—especially if they are Millennials or Gen Zers—are perceived as being immature.
If you think you are a high-energy person, be observant of how people at work respond to you. If you see colleagues paying more attention to your hand motions than what you are saying, switch up your nonverbal body language.
Case in point: To no surprise, I am a high-energy person. I used to work for a low-energy manager, and I could always tell when my energy was working against me because he would stop listening to me, his eyes would get big, and he’d look at me as if he was watching an action movie—one he didn’t particularly enjoy. I made a point of managing my energy during one-on-one meetings with this manager. I lowered my voice. I would always share two to three updates and ask him one or two questions. I was mindful of my pace and voice inflection. Finally, I made a conscious effort to speak with minimal hand gestures.
Conversation Topics and Word ChoiceThe most frequent mistake I see people commit early in their career journey is misunderstanding general office talk. Keep in mind, when you are at work, someone is almost always listening. Therefore, try to keep conversations casual conversation and avoid controversial or overly personal topics. Instead, focus on generic interests like the best new restaurants in your city, a concert you attended, or the score of a recent football game. This is especially true when you’re interacting with people you are in the process of building a work relationship with.
Putting It All TogetherBottom line: when you have conversations at work, people will judge whether you are trustworthy. For example, if you work in human resources, there’s a high likelihood that you have access to confidential employee information. If you speak loudly about that info, the focus changes from your professional image to your ethics.
I'm not suggesting you shouldn’t look forward to having fun, enjoyable conversations at work. I am acknowledging, however, that everything you do and say at work matters—especially during interpersonal interactions. Remember, organizations are looking for their next set of leaders, and with leadership opportunities comes expectations about your behavior. Every interaction at work is an opportunity to demonstrate you have potential to move up the career ladder.