Perception Identity

May 1, 2002
A. Parker Geiger

A. Parker Geiger has developed and implemented image training and professional development programs for individuals since 1985, and his firm, Atlanta-based Impression Management Inc. has conducted seminars, workshops and private sessions around the country. He can be reached at: (404) 589-9833, through e-mail at or at

Pharmaceutical Representative

A personal strategy approach to doing business.

We all know how important first impressions are, because on a daily basis we subconsciously attempt to control the impressions others form of us. When attending a luncheon, or meeting a client in his or her office, we might pay a little more attention to what we wear and how we act.

But what about those critical business situations you are faced with that require more detailed planning, such as meeting a doctor and his or her staff for the first time, giving a presentation, directing a meeting, or handling negotiations? It is more than just making a good first impression. It is about setting the tone for how you want the situation to begin, develop and end.

As an image communications specialist, it has become very clear to me that the communication process begins before words are actually spoken or handshakes are exchanged. And that impact of communication affects how a particular situation or relationship develops.

That's why I designed a program called Perception Identity, which was created to help professionals become consciously competent in strategically positioning themselves for any business situation.

Perception Identity is based on the concept that "perception is reality." Simply stated, a perception of someone may not reflect the true profile of the individual, but to the perceiver it is his or her reality, regardless of the facts.

When first seeing others, we subconsciously perceive their presence as primarily authoritative or approachable. I refer to this as one's Perception ID. We distinguish this presence by how a person's physical characteristics and the overall tone of their body language impact the onlooker. Although people possess characteristics reflective of both, one Perception ID is more prominent than the other.

Perception Identity

To help you understand how Perception Identity works, I will use one of my client's profiles - let's call him John.

For John, identifying his Perception ID was the first step in strategically positioning himself to his audience. To accomplish this, we completed the Perception ID Evaluation (see sidebar) by selecting those physical characteristics and body language elements that pertained specifically to John.

Most of John's elements were in column C (eight points), which represented his approachable traits. The second highest number of elements was in column A (one point), which represented his authoritative traits. John had one element in column B, which is considered neutral and has no impact on how others perceive him; therefore, John's Perception ID was identified as "approachable" because column C received the highest number of points.

Let's see how John applied the principles of Perception Identity to strategically position his Perception ID in his particular situation.

Image positioning

To determine if John should reinforce his Perception ID or modify it to position himself differently, he needed to look first at his particular situation and identify the dynamics that might affect his approach when preparing for the presentation: the relationship between his position and his audience, his challenge and his purpose. Only then could he determine how to position his Perception ID strategically.

The situation

John was a product manager of a pharmaceutical company, and was preparing to make a presentation to the president, the vice president of sales and marketing, and the director of training and development of his company concerning the launch date of a new product that was soon to be released. In short, the project was behind schedule and over budget. John not only needed to update the team on the project, but he was going to have to ask for additional funds and to move the launch date back a few weeks as well.

Once John considered all the dynamics of his situation and realized the severity of the problem, he determined that he needed to make an initial impression of an authoritative presence. We call this John's "desired perception." The question now was how much of an authoritative presence John needed to project in order to meet his purpose.

Determining presence

Principle 1: Desired quota. John needed to determine how much of his initial impact should be authoritative. He decided that he should project a presence that was at least 90% authoritative. We call this his "desired quota." (A desired quota should be in the range between 50% and 100%.)

Principle 2: Modification quota. To determine how much of John's Perception ID he needed to modify in order to reach his desired perception (we call this his "modification quota"), we subtracted John's existing authoritative traits of 10% from his desired quota of 90%. Therefore, John's modification quota was 80%. This means that he needed to adjust or modify his Perception ID by 80% in order to reach his desired authoritative perception.

Principle 3: Impression-management tactics. John's final task was to determine exactly which channels of communication (body, tone, words) he needed to modify to reach his modification quota of 80%. Because John could preplan for this meeting, he could choose from those elements that produce a more authoritative presence: a navy, single-breasted suit, a red-based tie, a more formal walk and a more erect sitting position.

John also wanted to maintain his authoritative presence throughout his presentation, so he worked on other authoritative impression-management tactics such as reducing his gestures to a minimum. As opposed to John's normally monotonous voice, he chose to use inflections in his voice when making a point. John also used strong words and phrases such as "I know," as opposed to "I think," to reinforce his points.

Implementing these tactics enabled John to set the tone of competence and credibility. Techniques that helped remove a multitude of barriers between himself and his audience enabled him to get his audience's attention so that he could present his case without prejudice, thus helping to reach his goal.

I hope you are beginning to see how you can use your Perception ID to position yourself more strategically in various business situations. Remember, in today's business world, if you cannot communicate who you are and what you know to others, you are of no value to an organization. Make sure you know how to do both effectively. PR

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