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Personal & Professional Perception: The Difference?

I have been a professional marketer for almost two years. One of the most important lessons that I have learned, and now preach: ‘it is all about perception’. And that is not about how you perceive yourself, but how your peers, your competition, your friends and family perceive you. You can dictate how others perceive you. Unfortunately, it is not something that people choose to take seriously in every aspect of their life.

As a professional, I learned quickly that something you say as yourself can impact how others perceive and respect you as a professional. I understand why a few of my friends have separate twitter and Facebook accounts for their personal and professional voice. That is not the right option for me, as I do my very best to show my personality while maintaining my professionalism.

Two recent events are the inspiration for this blog: one involving a famous athlete, the other a more personal encounter. I will start with the athlete in question, who is Tiger Woods.

Since Woods became known to the general public, he has had a near flawless record as a person. Known as a family man committed to his wife and children, dedicated to his charitable endeavors, Woods had everyone believing he was not only the greatest golfer, but an ideal, morally correct person.

We were wrong.

Since Thanksgiving, Woods has been in exile, hiding from the press, from friends, and the game he excels at. He has stepped away from golf until further notice, and has been in a rehab facility, attempting to recover from his alleged sex addiction.

Now, the perception on Woods is as a person, he is a cheater, not-trustworthy, and lacking integrity and loyalty. It does change my perception on Woods as a professional. Golf is a game based on trust, following the rules, (not cheating). He is severely flawed as a person when it comes to this. When considering the greatest golfer of all time, I do consider who they are as a person. For that reason, it will be difficult for me to consider Woods as the greatest to play the game.

During my trip to NYC, I met a PR guy who while I was unfamiliar with, was told by other PR professionals that he was ‘the guy to know’, a ‘PR rockstar’. People who have such praise bestowed on them must be doing something right. This guy must be good at what he does if there are people from Minneapolis, Atlanta, and even Dallas openly holding him in a high regard. Before meeting this PR guy, I checked him out on various social media channels. His tone was condescending, full of self-righteousness, and overly pompous. In the interest of fairness, I went into meeting him with an open mind.

When introduced, I was instantly turned off by his inability to look me in the eye during our handshake. A blatant act of disrespect for no reason. While out, another person introduced me to the same PR guy not knowing I was already introduced to him. To my surprise, he again failed to even glance in my direction. My opinion was already set in stone because of his disrespect during both introductions, among other interactions and observations that evening.

My perception of the PR guy is as a person, he is a complete piece of crap. If I worked at a company that wanted to work with him and/or his employer, I would do all I could to make sure that would not happen. If the PR guy is as disrespectful as a professional as he was to me on a personal level, I cannot imagine how he acts to clients. It is a complete shock that anyone holds this person in such a high regard.

How people perceive you as a person and as a professional, for most people, are two completely different buckets. For me, those buckets are one in a package deal. If I encounter someone who is a nice person, but (extreme example) is convicted of running a ponzi scheme, my perception of that person would change, and rightfully so.

I want people to perceive me as a very passionate, kind person willing to help out anyone when possible. I want people to perceive me as a very passionate, driven, intelligent professional who works his butt off to do the best job possible on any sized project. I hope that is how people perceive me, for that is how I perceive myself. However, that is up to you to determine that.

My question for you: can you separate your perception of someone as a person and as a professional? Share an example of when your perception changed due to learning more about someone.


  1. Amanda Oleson
    March 2, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    I have to point out the obvious differences in your two scenarios here- differences that have to be addressed. Tiger Woods spent the last several years making a name for himself not only as the greatest golfer in the world- but as a STAND UP GUY. He actively sought out that perception- he WANTED us all to think that he was dedicated to his gorgeous wife and children outside of the golf course. I think it’s fair that your perception of him is tarnished now that we all know his actions and words didn’t line up the way he said.

    In scenario B presented here- you’ve made it pretty clear that this guy didn’t go out of his way to make it be known that he’s a stand up guy… in fact, it sounds like just the opposite- it sounds like he made an effort to let people see his personality; for better or for worse. What do you actually know about this man’s professional work? Have you ever worked with him? Is his work broadcasted over numerous national television channels like Tiger’s?

    I think you’re right- perception is important. However, basing your entire perception of someone on a first impression is short-sighted and a bit pompous. Just think: What is no one ever gave you a second chance- personally or professionally?

    • March 2, 2010 at 4:28 PM

      Valid points.

      To address your question to me: I struggle with that every day. People continue to doubt me to my face because of whatever their perception is of me. That is one of the main reasons why I work as hard as possible in my professional life to do great work the right way. I also am mindful of how people perceive me as a person. I hope people see me for who I am, what I do, and the passion I live with in a positive light.

      I truly believe that I am fighting for a second chance with a lot of people, all because of how I was for a brief time in the past. I try very hard to put my best foot forward in all situations to chip away at any old perceptions that linger. I am grateful for everything that has happened to me, as it has helped shape who I am today. Because of the path I followed, I am paying the price. It is similar to a first impression; you usually don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

      If, as you call me, ‘short-sighted and a bit pompous’, is someone’s perception of me, it will take me a long time to fight for that to be changed. That’s what happened with the PR guy: a very poor first impression. The shocking part to me is the absolute lack of caring on his part. How people are outside of work does give you a good judge on how they are as professionals, which leads me to believe that he is not the ‘PR rockstar’ that people hype him up to be.

  2. Mike Stafford
    March 3, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    Very interesting, now does what PR guy do affect your view of that company. A sales competition that I went to a few months back is a great example between how two employees of two differnt companies gave me a different view on that specific company. Company Tom’s Handcrafted Sleds the employee from this company was very personable, making conversation with nervous college students, he went out of his way to talk to us, buy us a beer, and strike up a conversation. Now there was an employee from Tina’s Italian Meatballs, by the time the awards competition, for the second night in a row, was a drunken mess. She then had to go up and had out the awards to all the contestants. By how she “sold” herself made me look down on Tina’s Italian Meatball, just the way she handled herself in public. Now the employee from Tom’s Handcrafted Sleds gave me a very good impression of the company and some place I would think about working.

    With your PR guy meeting him in a public setting and not giving you the time and making your perception of him ‘a piece of crap’ now when you met him in the professional setting does that make his company look bad based on his action or when you think of that company you think of PR guy and have a poor perception of that company.

    • March 3, 2010 at 5:26 PM

      Note: I never met the PR guy in a professional setting.

      Whenever you are outside of the office, for better or worse, you are not only representing yourself, but anyone you associate with. I do not know where the PR guy works. It is a negative mark for that company, in my mind.

      If I was to meet co-workers of his and they had the same tact, then I would think more negatively about their company.

      Even though this is my personal blog, I still am a representative for Spyder Trap, the American Diabetes Association, the American Marketing Association, my family, my girlfriend, friends, etc.

      Remember the speaker at the MN-AMA collegiate event discussing LinkedIn? The presenter mentioned one of her connections did something negative (not sure what). Because of that, the presenter disconnected herself from that person because she feared what the perception would be if she was associated with the other person.

      Perception can be a very strong ally or enemy. It is up to you to be aware of that at all times.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. March 9, 2010 at 10:05 PM

    Hmm that’s amazing but frankly i have a hard time understanding it… wonder what others have to say..

  1. March 8, 2010 at 9:45 AM

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