First impressions

You’ve arrived at your new workplace on the first day. You are being taken around to meet people and shown where you are going to be working. You look at the people you are meeting and you start to think about what you are wearing – you wore a smartly pressed white shirt and black pants and your shoes are shining and you felt so proud of yourself when you left home.

But all around you are people in jeans and sneakers. You start thinking about how you are dressed and how you don’t fit in and you notice everyone is staring at you and what is worse they are laughing and joking among themselves. You think they must be laughing at you and you start to fret and sweat and forget to listen to what your new manager is saying to you.

The more you worry, the stranger the workplace seems and the less you listen. So when your manager says to you, “Why don’t you get a cup of coffee and start looking over the papers I’ve left at your workstation and I’ll meet up with you in an hour to talk over it”, you panic. You have no idea where to get coffee, you cannot remember where your workstation is located, you feel stupid and you can’t possibly ask because you don’t want to give your manager a bad impression on your first day … or ask any of those people who were laughing at you already.

If you think too much about “personal”, you might start worrying about those laughing, talking people who are much more likely to be telling each other what happened to them last night and laughing about that than laughing at you. And the reason why they are wearing jeans and sneakers is because it is Friday and this is the day casual clothes are allowed in the workplace.

Does this sound overly simple? In a way it is, but we all do this kind of thing whether it’s a workplace in a new country or just a new workplace, this is a situation playing out every day all over the world. It’s not unique to Australia.

One of the most basic keys to a successful personal presence is to focus on the word “presence”. It means really being “present” or in the moment. All that means is: listen carefully to what you are being told; pay attention to what’s important around you; and ask if you need something to be made clearer. You will come across as more confident, more interested and more human, that is more likeable.

And no matter which country you are in, employees that listen carefully, pay attention to what’s important around them and ask for clarification about what you are being told, will make a very good impression on a new manager. So even if you feel you are looking a little out of place, the one thing you do have control over is how you deal with it.

In Australia, generally speaking, people who don’t take themselves too seriously and can laugh at themselves if they are a bit out of place at first, will be made to feel at home. On the other hand, if you immediately say to yourself, “I’m the one who’s dressed the right way and it’s wrong to come to work looking like this” or “I am so stupid to have worn the wrong clothes today”, you may come across as arrogant (not a good thing in many parts of this society) or embarrassed and weak (which can invite exclusion or bullying – yes, it happens!)

A golden rule for personal presence is: listen, watch carefully and ask promptly for the things that matter to be made clear.

Soraya Raju, Cultural Integration Expert, Migrate Success Jan 2017

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