How many times have you heard the phrase “You are what you eat”? The idea behind this now-infamous diet mantra is that in order to be fit and healthy, you have to eat nutritious food. The take-home message? Your actions have direct ramifications for your body and your mind.
Now, consider this spin: “You are what you say.” Fair or not, what you communicate to others can lead others to make assumptions about your character — a concept called spontaneous trait inference.
This psychological phenomenon holds that people are perceived as possessing traits they describe in others. Several experiments have shown that people can associate traits with others mindlessly without logical rationale.
Think of it this way: the more you talk about a certain trait — even if you’re describing another person and not yourself — the more salient and memorable that trait becomes in the other person’s mind. Through an associative process in the brain, they start to think of you coupled with that trait (kind of like when you hear “zebra,” you may think “stripes”).
Spontaneous trait inference is crucial to keep in mind at the office for the sake of both your current job and your career prospects. Here’s how to use this concept to boost your reputation, influence and become exceptionally more likable in the process:
No Gossip — No Exceptions
As if you needed another reason to keep the chitchat in check, spontaneous trait inference means that every time you share something negative about someone, the person you’re blathering to might start thinking of you as the one characterized by that trait.
Translation: when you call a colleague a gossip to another co-worker, you’re the one that will be perceived as a gossip. People will begin to question your motives and conclude you’re untrustworthy.
In a professional setting, there’s really no excuse for bad-mouthing anyway — be it your client, colleague or CEO. It creates tension, characterizes you as petty and is just plain mean.
Find healthier ways to deal with the stress of having a moody manager or an impossible client. Better yet, devote some time to developing proactive strategies for managing difficult people, whether with the help of a professional or by educating yourself.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Armed with the knowledge that your words can become your reality, you should pay extra close attention to how you communicate in a career-related setting. For instance, over-apologizing or using minimizing language can not only affect your confidence levels but also how others perceive you.
On the flip side, being generous with compliments and praise (when warranted, not to brown-nose) is a great habit to show compassionate leadership. During the next one-on-one you have with your boss, consider sharing positive feedback about other members on your team.
Act As You Want to Feel
Do unto others as… you know the rest. How do you want to feel when you’re at a networking event, solo? What about on your first day at a new job, or out to happy hour for the first time with new colleagues? How do you want to be treated by your new hire? What about by your boss after a big win?
Since you now know that spontaneous trait inference can unconsciously transfer traits to you that you communicate about others, put your best professional foot forward by behaving exactly how you’d like to be dealt with by those around you. Jealous of a colleague’s promotion? Think about how you’d wish to be treated in her shoes, and act accordingly with a warm congratulations
The phenomenon of spontaneous trait inference can affect your interactions up and down the career ladder. Keep it in mind when you’re communicating with anyone involved in your work, which includes listening clear-headedly to others so that you’re not the one guilty of trait inference.