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  • Writer's pictureElena Scaramellini

How do others see "you"?

From first impressions to in-depth conversations, we perceive “others”, and others perceive “us”. But how aware are we of the way others see “us”?

We present ourselves to others pretty much every time we interact with people, either at a personal or professional level.

People, in turn, would have a perception of ourselves that "we" help create through our interactions with them.

From everyday conversations, emails, online meetings, job interviews, to formal presentations, we are conveying messages and presenting “ourselves” to others almost all of the time, even when we do not speak.

After all, communicating and presenting information is pretty much a part of life.

In general, there is a send-and-receive flow of information as we communicate. Messages are sent, and once received, a response is generated. This response could be a gesture, or a thought, and not necessarily a spoken word.

As we exchange information with one another, emotions may be triggered and perceptions may be created about a person or situation.

So when it comes to how people see “us”, we would need to pay close attention to the way we communicate and interact with others.

For example, if you come from a corporate environment, you would probably have to communicate messages to your team or present information in meetings as part of your job. To do so, you might need to spend some time and effort writing and organising your messages to communicate with your colleagues in a clear and effective manner.

However, no matter how good the content of your presentation may be, or how clear your verbal or written messages, there is a crucial element you would need to consider: non-verbal communication.

Whenever we present information to others, we are conveying messages with not only our spoken (or written) word, but also with our bodies, our facial expressions, our gestures, and even our tone of voice (or tone in writing).

Anthropologists and psychologists have long emphasised the role of our body language when communicating.

Ray Birdwhistell was an American anthropologist who coined the term “kinesics” (from Greek kinēsis ‘motion’) in his study of human body motion as a form of non-verbal communication.

In his book Kinesics and Context, Birdwhistell explains that “the major component of communication, ¾ say of conversation, is not the new information conveyed, but the stream of communication itself.” That is, over 70% of the messages we convey when we communicate with others come from our non-verbal communication.

Birdwhistell believed body motion to be a major component of our communication behaviour.

We communicate non verbally through our body movement, our facial expressions, our gestures, our posture, our eye contact, our tone of voice, and speed of speaking, to name a few.

Given how important a role our body language plays, becoming “aware” of our non-verbal cues could help us better understand how others see “us”.

We could ask ourselves: how aware are we of our body movements when we talk? Do we notice our facial expressions as we speak? Are we aware of our posture when standing in front of an audience? Do we look too serious, or angry, or sad, or happy when talking to others?

Well, unless we are recording ourselves all the time, have a mirror in front of us, or are looking at ourselves on a video call, we may find it difficult to answer those questions.

If you make presentations, or run meetings frequently, a good starting point would be to ask a trusted colleague for feedback. You could do the same about your personal interactions in general, and ask a trusted friend or family member for their feedback instead.

When you ask someone for feedback, ask them not only about the messages you are trying to convey, but also about your body movement, posture, facial expression, and tone of voice. Then, ask them how your body language makes them “feel”.

For example, a colleague may feed back to you that you speak calmly and clearly, stand upright, look confident, and that they feel you are quite knowledgeable.

People would often remember your non-verbal cues more than your spoken word. And, they may get a perception of yourself based on your “non-verbal communication”.

Constructive feedback from a trusted person can be a very useful tool when you are uncovering how others see “you” .

In general, getting the point of view of those you trust would give you a more objective picture than if you were your only judge.

Another way of becoming more "aware" of how we are perceived by others would be to practice "mindfulness".

When it comes to mindfulness, we would need to first have an understanding of what “mindfulness” actually means.

To put it simply, mindfulness is being “aware” and “present” in our lives. It is the opposite of being on “autopilot” mode.

When we practise mindfulness regularly, we tend to be more “aware” of where we are, what we are doing, how we are feeling, and what we are thinking about. People around us may perceive us as more “connected” and “present”.

We can practise mindfulness and incorporate it into our daily lives, starting with simple habits.

For example, if you made a conscious choice to bring your attention to that cup of coffee you have every morning, and for a few minutes you just enjoyed its aroma and taste, you would be practising “mindfulness”.

Let us now take a scenario at work where mindfulness could help with how others see “you”.

In this case scenario, imagine you are a subject-matter expert about to present information to a senior audience at your company. Even though you have prepared and rehearsed your presentation in advance, you feel anxious and stressed about presenting. So, how could mindfulness help in this case?

Being “aware” of how you are feeling would be the first step to address the state you are in.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises could help you calm your mind and lower your levels of stress. This would make you feel more relaxed and look more confident to your audience.

In general, people who practice mindfulness and meditation find it that it helps them be more focused, less stressed, more connected, and more present in their lives. This, in turn, impacts the perception of others on how they communicate and act.

Ultimately, when we ask for feedback to understand how others perceive us, we see things from another’s point of view. It is a great opportunity to examine our behaviours in a more objective manner, and to gain mindful insights about how we interact with others.

Elena Scaramellini

Executive Trainer

Would you like to learn more about effective communication and presentation skills? Contact Us for an introductory call or to join one of our workshops.

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