When you throw a stone into the water, it makes rings. Smaller and bigger. If you take the time to watch them, you notice that those rings are spreading their waves further and further from the place the stone felt. They can get very far, and it can take a while by the time they disappear, and the water’s surface regains the original flatness.
It is the same with people. We never know how we influence the people we meet and how long they will keep the impression we made on them. We don’t know how they see us either. Accordingly to Albert Mehrabian’s communication model (7-38-55), 7% are words, 38% are intonation, and 55% are body language. In the mirror, we do not see ourselves more than a couple of times a day. Do we know how other people see us? Do we know what kind of ideas we help create in their minds, or what kind of associations they get in their heads about who we are and what we stand for?
This can be hard to control even in a country where we have been born and brought up, and we know the culture and the secret codes and the expectations people may have of us. Yet we do not know much about it when we move to another country.
We can learn to shape words and phrases both in our native language and if we are lucky and put in enough effort, we can also learn that in a foreign language. Yet we do not know how our voice sounds in other people’s ears, and especially when we speak with an accent. It doesn’t sound the same way when we hear ourselves. We don’t know either how our image will influence the people seeing us. Of course, we have dress codes, at the same time those dress codes are different in each country. What is appropriate to wear in a job interview or a party in one culture, may not be appropriate in another country. It may be either too much or too little.
As immigrants/expats, we take patterns of behavior with us, (in our invisible luggage), that were accepted in the culture we know, yet they can be misunderstood and misinterpreted in a new culture.
I know there are many cultures where the “I don’t care about what other people think” philosophy is very well spread. It has to do with how many people are in the respective country, also with status and wellness. It is impossible to make everybody happy anyway, yet it is an expectation in smaller societies, where people depend on each other in a much bigger measure. After all, “what people say about you when you aren’t there” is your “brand”. Therefore, no matter how small or big the number of inhabitants the community you live in has, reputation is important, and it is difficult to control.
Therefore, big companies have people to deal with their image, to make commercials, to “handle” the company’s reputation. But how do ordinary people handle their own personal reputation? Of course, in the world we live today, we also have social media which allows everybody to become a “public figure”, at the same time, can we control how people see us? Not really if they don’t tell us and give us feedback. If we are lucky, we get positive feedback, at the same time the less positive feedback can be useful. It tells us how we can become better, either by understanding how we can integrate that feedback into our behavior and life, or simply by ignoring it if we find that it is not worth paying attention to it. We can choose.
Sometimes the feedback is with words, yet other times is with pictures. Like the one, I chose to place in this article. You have the camera picture on the right, which was taken on Christmas Eve, while I was wearing a Mrs. Clause outfit. At the event I was taking part in that evening, I met for the first time someone I had a fun discussion with, about awareness and how do we use words when we talk about ourselves and with ourselves. It seems that both the discussion and the way I looked that evening had made an impression.
This new person is an artist, a painter, and was inspired enough to make a painting about it. I chose to make a collage of both the painting and the picture of myself from that evening because it is a very good example of how we think we look and how others see us. At the same time, it is also an example of how the painting has influenced me to write this article and use the pic collage to prove a point. It works like a boomerang, somehow. What we give, comes back, and so on.
We cannot control the length of time people keep us or the event or the discussion in their memory either. This painting was made between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and it will always remind both the painter and me about the moment we shared in a good discussion. It may also influence other people who see that picture, without knowing who “the model” was. The model won’t have any control over that either. Eventually, some feedback will come around in some time. If not, I will never know.
Have you ever thought of how other people see you? If you haven’t, have you thought about asking some of your acquaintances whom you know are not afraid to speak up and give you honest feedback? Do you think you can handle the honesty?
Let me know what you think in a comment underneath, or let me know in confidence, by clicking on this link.
Wishing you a good year!