Recovering from bad first impressions at a new job

  • Article by: LIZ REYER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 16, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Q: I think I made some mistakes with my new staff when I started this job, and they now seem to lack confidence in me, which has been communicated to my boss. He now seems to have some concerns. How can I get things on track?

A: Demonstrate your management skill and technical knowledge to establish a positive base.

The inner game

Let go. If you tend to beat yourself up, forgive yourself. Instead, focus on your breathing and move to a deep state of calm. From there, envision the working relationships you’d like to foster, imagining the day-to-day interactions with each individual as well as the overall culture you’d like to shape.

Now look realistically at the situation. If you’ve been feeling embarrassed or ashamed, that may color your objectivity. Write down the course of events from when you started through the present as though you were someone else neutrally describing it. While you’re likely correct that there were missteps, it may not be the case that the outcomes are as dramatic as you originally felt.

Analyze the specific mistakes. Did you come in too tentative and undermine their confidence in your ability to do your job? Or was it the opposite, where you came in too hard but uninformed? Is the perception of you fairly unified, or would different people be likely to provide different feedback?

Consider why you interacted in this way. Is it your way to be open and honest, but under the stress of a new job it showed up as oversharing? Or are you a take-charge type of person, but nervousness made you come on too strong? Spend some time really understanding this because it’ll help you turn the overuse of a strength into an asset.

Finally, make sure that you’re not sabotaging yourself in any other ways or in other settings — this could be a pattern that undermines the strengths you bring.

The outer game

Consider your options for moving forward. At some level, there can be a “least said, soonest mended” dynamic. However, if the issue goes beyond one minor gaffe, this wouldn’t be sufficient. Instead, modify your interaction style and set a new starting point for you and your team’s interactions.

Let’s use the example that you said more than you should about your self-perceived limitations. In proper balance, this taps into the strength of openness and candor. Since you haven’t been in the role a long time, you could have “how’s it going” conversations that emphasize your openness. At the same time, bring an air of assurance so that it doesn’t come across as additional neediness. If you don’t feel this assurance, continue to work through the reasons that you’re questioning your own abilities.

With your boss, your next steps will depend on your relationship. Ideally it’s open enough that you can discuss his concerns and allay them as much as possible, recognizing that success will come from your future actions. Make a plan to obtain regular feedback to ensure that you’re meeting his expectations.

The last word

While first impressions are important, decisive action to overcome them can help you succeed in your new position.

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