Whether you’re a freelancer with a book of contacts, or established in a corporate structure, your reputation can define your success and be the deciding factor in many professional situations. So what is the impression you leave on those you encounter? Does it reflect your intentions and values, and send the right message? Honing your self-perception is a lifelong task (tools like the Johari Window can help), and the resulting insights will have a significant impact on how others see you.
Read on below for the basics to maintaining a good reputation from experts who know the ins and outs of what makes for a memorable, positive impression.
1. Practice humility
Tina Roth Eisenberg, CEO and founder of CreativeMornings, receives her share of pitches from those keen to work with her. The quality that stands out the most is a simple one: humility. When considering speakers, the one thing she looks for is a feeling of generosity, “Often times people pitch themselves in a way that lacks humility. When you do pitch yourself, do it humbly. Show up with an appreciation for what this organization stands for, [show] that you get them. And then, explain what you can offer to this community. Show up generously, with a sense of giving, not taking.”
Remember to strike a fine balance when touting your accomplishments, particularly if you are keen to collaborate. Be proud of what you have achieved, but make sure to show that you have a self-awareness that will make working with you a memorable experience for the right reasons.
2. Build your emotional intelligence
Shana Dressler, leadership consultant and co-founder of DLW Creative Labs, is a big believer in the importance of working on our humanity skills, especially in the workplace. One of those crucial capabilities is upping your emotional intelligence. In Dressler’s words, this means “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Being cognizant of how your behavior affects others is at the heart of emotional intelligence.”
To build that knowledge, ask some direct questions, such as “what types of behaviors drive you crazy? Where does your anxiety show up? What do you do when you don’t feel heard? How do your resentments show up in interactions with others?” These may take some time to answer honestly, but having this self-awareness could mean a decisive, positive shift in your relationships.
3. Know how to sell yourself
Dana Leavy-Detrick, owner of Brooklyn Resume Studios, knows the importance of thoughtful branding, and has a sharp eye for the impression we convey when we try to sell people on our skills. Most of us struggle to heap praise on ourselves the way we do with those we admire. “I work with a lot of people who do branding professionally, but who can’t do it for themselves. It’s something that even the highest level of people struggle with,” explains Leavy-Detrick.
Knowing how to present yourself and your accomplishments (and backing up your statements), is crucial to a good reputation. “Remember,” she adds, “If you don’t promote your skills and talent, no one is going to do it for you. Clients want to read your summary and come away with a sense of confidence that you can do the job.”
4. Network wisely
The majority of our professional communication plays out via email, so make the right impression by knowing your email etiquette when networking with potential contacts. People are likely to remember a pleasant and appropriate online interaction when considering you for a job or a professional partnership, so it’s worth sharpening your email skills. William Schwalbe, co-wrote Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It with David Shipley, so he is wise to the power dynamics inherent in reaching out to make a professional connection. “I don’t mind if someone asks for a favor, but don’t pretend you are doing me a favor if I am doing you a favor,” Schwalbe says.
Erin McKean, the founder of the online dictionary Wordnik.com, points out the importance of respecting the other person’s time and obligations. “Most bad intros are bad because either the person making the intro or the person being introduced conveys a sense of unwarranted entitlement to your time and energy,” McKean says.
5. Avoid Burnout
As tempting as it is to say “yes” to every opportunity, there’s a real danger to stretching yourself too thin. If you overpromise and then fail to deliver, or don’t offer your best work, it will leave a poor impression on clients and superiors. For freelancers who depend on their reputation for a steady stream of work, this is a double bind. Taking time off may seem like lost income, but it makes for a more sustainable professional presence. “You’re like a cell phone that needs to get charged up,” explains Julie Morgenstern, productivity expert and New York Times best-selling author. “That’s what time off is for. It’s in the interest of your business to rest. It’ll make you a much better, more creative, smarter freelancer.” Remember that you’re playing the long game, even if you work for yourself (especially if you work for yourself!) as work often comes from your personal network as a freelancer.
6. Embrace a ‘mediation mindset’
We’re not saying that you have to be the designated peacekeeper in every situation, especially if you have to set some important boundaries. But how you handle the inevitable conflicts that arise in your professional life will speak volumes about your character, and has the potential to be a turning point with your peers and managers. Take a page out of Brad Heckman’s book when it comes to navigating those fight-or-flight moments. Heckman is the founder of the New York Peace Institute whose years of experience diffusing tense situations have given him a wealth of wisdom. The key? Communication. “Good communication is a full body experience,” Heckman says. “It’s how we breathe. It’s our tone. It’s our gestures.”
Get into the habit of being aware of potentially defensive body language, listen to the other person, and take the time to clarify and absorb what is being said. It will save both parties a lot of stress and drastically cut down on quarrels, as well as establishing a base of trust and mutual respect in your work relationships.