By Dr. Robert A. Giacalone, special to CareerBliss
After many years focused on the academic and practitioner aspects of managing one's work image effectively, I have not changed my mind about this: Effective management of your image generally helps to build careers and advance personal goals.
Speak and behave in a way that advances your image and you move ahead; fail to do so, and there can be career consequences.
But as years have passed, it also has become clear that managing your personal image is not always positive. All too often, the management of personal image can be more about deception and lying, fabrication and bluff than it is about image management.
It is so often about being inauthentic. It's a way of desperately trying to be someone who others value, and that leads you to forget who you really are. Some people work hard to build their careers, even at the cost of feeling badly about themselves in the process.
So, which one are you: Are you achieving your goal in a balanced and authentic way or are you selling your soul to achieve your career goals?
There are a few telltale signs of image managers who sell their souls. Any one of them is a good indication of a problem.
You start to feel guilty. You are presenting yourself in ways that you know do not reflect reality, and you feel bad about it. You worry about what would happen if people found out what you were really about, what you really did and how you deceived others. You start to feel like an imposter, doing more and more to hide the reality of who you really are and what you really do at work.
You might think that feeling like an imposter would decrease image management, but paradoxically, it actually increases the use of image management. Why? The person who feels like an imposter has to "fill in" the cracks in the image and has to monitor how others are responding more and more carefully. The imposter is so deep into the image game that there appears no way out without being humiliated and suffering career consequences.
When you reflect on the reality of who you are at work, you realize your competency is low because you have relied far more on developing your image and far less on developing your talents. Your work reputation starts to look more and more like a sham. You know and do very little of significance; people have been duped into thinking that you know a great deal. It scares you that if people really knew, you would likely lose your job.
You start to listen to yourself and you realize that you sound arrogant. You are always talking about yourself and your accomplishments. There is not a shred of humility left. Your name can always be found in organizational communications, and deep down, you know that it is mostly fluff. More importantly, you start to think that the people who believe your manipulations are stupid and that they deserve whatever deception they get from you. There is no doubt you should care if you feel guilty, think you are an imposter, know you are low in competence and think you are arrogant. Such feelings and thoughts create stress and undermine your life, both inside and outside of work.
What's the solution? There are a few things to consider:
1. Be Truthful
Anticipate the problem and begin to manage your image truthfully - frame what you do positively, but not in a way that is deceptive and exaggerates what you do.
Accept that there will be career consequences for living more authentically. So, compete on competence, developing your knowledge, skills, and abilities and manage the image of your real competencies. You will feel better if you know what people say about you is true.
2. Listen to Yourself
Monitor your inner voice - if you are telling yourself that what you are doing is not true, do not do it. You may regret it later.
3. Decide if it's a Good Fit
Some organization's cultures are built on image management and they will not change. In these cases, when the organization expects you to manage image and undermine who you really are, it may be time to either find another job or accept that the stress it is causes will undermine your well-being.
Remember: There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward! No one expects you to do otherwise. But lying, exaggeration, and bluff are an entirely different matter - and you know the difference!
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