How many times have you heard the phrase "You are what you eat"? The idea behind this now-infamous diet mantra is that in order to be fit and healthy, you have to eat nutritious food. The take-home message? Your actions have direct ramifications for your body and your mind.
Now, consider this spin: "You are what you say." Fair or not, what you communicate to others can lead others to make assumptions about your character—a concept called spontaneous trait inference.
This psychological phenomenon holds that people are perceived as possessing traits they describe in others. Several experiments have shown that people can associate traits with others mindlessly without logical rationale. Think of it this way: the more you talk about a certain trait—even if you're describing another person and not yourself—the more salient and memorable that trait becomes in the other person's mind. Through an associative process in the brain, they start to think of you coupled with that trait (kind of like when you hear "zebra," you may think "stripes").
Spontaneous trait inference is crucial to keep in mind at the office for the sake of both your current job and your career prospects. Here's how to use this concept to boost your reputation, influence, and become exceptionally more likable in the process:
No Gossip. No Exceptions.
As if you needed another reason to keep the chitchat in check, spontaneous trait inference means that every time you share something negative about someone, the person you're blathering to might start thinking of you as the one characterized by that trait.
Translation: when you call a colleague a gossip to another co-worker, you're the one that will be perceived as a gossip. People will begin to question your motives and conclude you're untrustworthy.
In a professional setting, there's really no excuse for bad-mouthing anyway—be it your client, colleague, or CEO. It creates tension, characterizes you as petty, and is just plain mean.
Find healthier ways to deal with the stress of having a moody manager or an impossible client. Better yet, devote some time to developing proactive strategies for managing difficult people, whether with the help of a professional or by educating yourself.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Armed with the knowledge that your words can become your reality, you should pay extra close attention to how you communicate in a career-related setting. For instance, over-apologizing or using minimizing language can not only affect your confidence levels but also how others perceive you.
On the flip side, being generous with compliments and praise (when warranted, not to brown-nose) is a great habit to show compassionate leadership. During the next one-on-one you have with your boss, consider sharing positive feedback about other members on your team.
Melody Wilding '11SW teaches human behavior at The City University of New York and is a nationally recognized Master Coach who distills psychological insights into actionable career advice. A licensed social worker trained at Columbia University, she's helped thousands of professional women and female entrepreneurs master their mindset and emotions for greater success. Melody has worked with CEOs and executives running top startups along with published authors and media personalities. She can help you identify and remove mental and emotional barriers keeping you from reaching the next level in your career. Learn more about her approach and results at melodywilding.com. If you're interesting in working with Melody one-on-one, get in touch about special private coaching rates for Columbia alumni.