What’s Your Interpersonal Impact?
There are a lot of things that business people learn about and focus on – management, sales, finances, succession. But it is rare for them to pay much attention to their interpersonal impact. What I mean by that is captured in a question that I often ask my clients: “After people meet you for the first time, what do they think about who you are, and how do they feel about you? Do they think you’re pretty smart; not so smart; pretty congenial and friendly; not so approachable; a real professional; or a rank amateur? And do they feel good and positive toward you, and look forward to getting to know you better? Or do they feel like there’s a huge impenetrable wall up that they could never surmount? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, for a couple of reasons. First, because the most recent research on first impressions, is really sobering.
According to a number of studies, you have around 118 seconds to make an impression and impact on another person. This applies to both personal and work relationships. That’s not a lot of time. And it certainly blows apart the old homily about how it takes a long time to get to know someone. In our culture, if it does take you a long time to get to know people, you probably won’t know many. You may dislike this shift in the culture at large, and certainly in the business environment, but not paying any attention to it, can limit your opportunities, and your adaptability to changing modes of communicating with people. Just look at what’s happened with webinars. We’ve discovered that most people lose interest in the typically structured webinar, in under a few minutes; and start fiddling with their favorite form of technology, or start daydreaming. The other reason I’ve been pondering this, springs from a recent encounter I had with a politician in one of our national bodies. We both spoke at a meeting and had some time to interact with each other. Most of the positions he takes I have no problem with. But as a person, I was very put-off and even repulsed. At this point in my life, I’m quite used to political superficiality (someone talking to you, while they’re sizing up the room with their eyes). But this fellow didn’t even make an effort to be superficial. And, in addition, everything about him, non-verbally, reeked of meanspiritedness. So even though we may be strategically aligned, I wouldn’t vote for him if he were the only person running in a one candidate election. And the saddest thing is, that I’m fairly certain that he is clueless as to his impact on others. So, I have a question for you. “What do you want to accomplish when you meet with someone?”And I don’t mean, here, tactically or task-wise. I do mean, what kind of person-to-person bridge do you want to build, and what kind of feeling tone do you want to create? You’re already doing this unconsciously and automatically. What I’m suggesting, is that you take conscious charge of this process, identify exactly the impact you’re having on others, and ask yourself if that’s what you want to accomplish. If you’re unclear about the impact you have, ask the most significant people in your personal and work life – they’ll have no problem identifying what it is. If part of your work is developing other people, the greatest gift you can give them, is honest and direct feedback on how they impact you and how you feel about that impact. Nothing else will come close to the value of that kind of information, in helping them grow, develop, and succeed.