Monday, February 7, 2011

Our Value Attribution

We all have heard, and been told, that the first impression we make upon others is incredibly important.  Recent research is now showing that our first impression is not only important in how others view us in the short term, but in the long term as well. 

It seems that once we form a first impression surrounding the perceived value of something or someone, the Value Attribution, it is difficult to shift the perception, regardless of the actual performance of the product or person.  Hmmm....  this means that once we have ascribed a certain value to something/someone, we rarely shift that perception, even in the face of contrary facts.  If we have determined that product X is amazing...  even though it doesn't prove to perform amazingly well in actual use, we are likely to continue to frame our experiences with the product in terms of how amazing it is, not relative to how it failed to meet our expectations.

In the book 'Sway: the Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior', authors Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman took a look at NBA draft picks.  Those chosen during the first round of picks, the early draft picks, had a perceived higher Value Attribution.  Because they were chosen early, they were perceived to be players that were 'better' and were likely to get snatched up quickly by others.  Therefore, their perceived value was higher.  As a result, they got more play time, more media attention, etc.  This all fits with the belief that the early picks are the better players.

What doesn't fit with this though were the perceptions that persisted, even in the face of actual performance statistics.  What the Brafmans determined was that the initial impression, the Value Attribution, of each player - which was created by being an early or late draft pick - stayed with a player for almost 5 years, despite their actual performance on the court.  The first impression set the perceived value bar and determined the future way in which we interpreted their performance and behaviour.

We have always been told that our first impressions are important, but these findings would imply that our first impressions are even more critically important to us and our careers than we might have previously believed.  If someone's first impression of us will serve to colour their ongoing perception of our performance and value, then we better get it right the first time.  We no longer can afford to leave those critical first few moments to chance!

In Executive Presence, Personal Branding and Impression Management seminars I have always emphasized the need to ensure that we use those first few moments to our advantage, helping to set the stage for how people will view us.  Never has this been more important than in today's overly competitive marketplace.  Couple this with people's seemingly shortened attention spans and the weighting on those first moments rises exponentially.
There are few times in your life when it isn't too melodramatic to say your destiny hangs on the impression you make.     Barbara Walters
The Work:

1.  Be clear about your message.  Who are you?  What do you represent?  You cannot be all things to all people so it is in your best interest to ensure that you represent what matters to you.  You must start with your message, the one that speaks to your authentic self.  Don't muddy the waters by trying to be what you believe others want to see.  If you are going to be 'labelled' in the minds of others, make sure it is with the label that you are handing to them.

2.  Conduct a Self-Evaluation.  Once you are clear about your personal message (consider this your Brand), it is necessary to evaluate how well you represent this.  Consider what behaviours would exemplify these messages and determine whether this is true of how you typically behave.  Videotape yourself and assess whether how you move, speak and sound help sell this message - or something different.

3.  Action Steps.  You likely have identified some gaps in number 2 above, areas in which there is some dissonance between how you are currently coming across and the branded message that you desire.  Take a moment to evaluate why.  One possible cause for a gap could rest in the brand you have established.  Ensure that it is truly reflective of what matters to you most and not of the brand that you expect others would want or prefer.  If the branded message is fine, then determine what behaviours are out of sinc with this brand and list them.  Consider which seems to be the biggest detractor from your desired Brand and start with it.  How might you 'do' different around this message?  What behaviours should you adopt, stop or modify?  Are there aspects of your voice or body movement that need to be modified to help you live to this message more believably and consistently?

We all have value.  Everyone.  The trick to creating a strong first impression is being honest enough with ourselves to discover what our true personal value is and confident enough to share it with others. 

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