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Take Stock of Your Brand—It’s How Others See You

I repeatedly read about brands today. Not just brands like IBM or Apple or even Emily Post, but people’s individual brands. That’s your brand. Your brand, in effect, is how people perceive you. What impression do you leave after people have interacted with you?

The importance of the perspective that another person has about you is one of two core concepts we teach at the beginning of most of our business etiquette seminars. You walk into a business meeting dressed in what you thought was a sharp outfit, but the reaction of the people in the room clearly indicates they are thinking, “Why is he/she dressed like that?” In business the other person’s opinion really matters because that person may be in a position to affect your success—now or in the future. That “other person” could be an interviewer for a job who was a former colleague, a client who is deciding whether to engage you or a competitor, or a boss who is making a choice about whom to promote.

How do you know how other people perceive you and your brand? Basics matter. Think in terms of appearance, actions, and words. Appearance can be defined by:

* Neat: Clothing with no wrinkles, tears or holes and that fit well; shoes shined and in good repair. Well-groomed hair, hands, and nails.

* Clean: No stains or odor on clothes. No odor on your body or your breath.

* Understated: Err on the side of conservative dress rather than loud flashy colors or designs. Minimal or no perfumes or colognes.

Be aware of how your actions affect how people see you. Posture matters. So does eye contact. Curtail nervous habits such as chewing fingernails or clicking a pen or twitching a foot incessantly. These quirks communicate a lack confidence that can undermine an otherwise strong impression.

The words you choose matter, too. A word or expression that might seem innocuous to you could be offensive to the person you are trying to impress.

If people focus negatively on your appearance, actions or words, then your image needs polishing.

One way to gain an appreciation for the difference between how you perceive your brand and how others do is to try a simple exercise. Do it with a colleague with whom you have a friendly working relationship. Start by writing down three words that you think define how other people think of you: driven, team player, helpful, easy-going, considerate, reliable, honest. While you write down your three words, ask your colleague to write down three words that he or she thinks define you and your brand. Then take the time to compare how you see yourself with how your colleague does. You’re looking for congruency in how you see yourself and how others see you. If it’s not a match, then it’s time to put effort into re-branding, or polishing those qualities that don’t meet your brand standards.

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News." Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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