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Managing Your Image is critical in threshold situations in life

Although managing your image is essential in all walks of life, it becomes extremely critical when you reach a threshold situation in life.

A threshold is a point of departure or of transition. You are at the start of something new, or you are shifting from one role to another. Generally, your complete focus at the time is on the hard skills and you push aside the need to change your image. The result is that opportunities pass you by and even when you gain the opportunity, you fail to reap the maximum advantage or fall short of forming the deepest relationships possible.

Going to college from school, college to the job market, getting promoted, going abroad, moving to a professional role after a sabbatical, starting a business, getting elected to a social position, getting married, getting divorced or getting remarried after a divorce, becoming pregnant, delivering a child are some of the most common such situations and there are hundreds more.

Every threshold situation is the start of a new role and usually people do not prepare for them. Most do not even realize that with the change in role there must be a change in the image that they project.

Threshold situations arrive in everyone’s life, whether you have a low or a high profile. Those are the times when it becomes critical for you to change your image in the form of your appearance, behavior and communication to meet the demands of the new situation. We have brought together a mix of situations, some of celebrities who have successfully negotiated the thresholds with a change in image and some of typical situations you are likely to face in life. We also bring to you an atypical situation and the importance of changing your image to suit each new threshold.

Celebrities Navigating Thresholds

Amitabh Bachchan

From a gangly, struggling youth to an angry young man and a villain-bashing matinee idol, he transformed himself into a friendly TV host, and further to an aged gentleman who dons a range of fulfilling roles. In the process, Amitabh Bachchan has handled multiple threshold situations, managing his image beautifully through each. Roles are written for him and credit goes to his ability to transform and recast himself into a new role, professionally as well as in his off-screen image. Both have always gone hand-in-hand.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni

From a hard-hitting batsman to captain cool, Mahendra Singh Dhoni needed a change in image and he has done it with the same instinct that emerges from his ease with himself. He projects a different, more nuanced image at his threshold situations, shifting from soldier to general to mature general. At each threshold, he shows a distinct change in his image even as he sticks to his basic value of this is what I am. In doing so, he carries himself off with aplomb.

Narendra Modi

From heading a state to heading a nation needed many things but first, it was about an image change. This, Prime Minister Modi created with strategy, turning himself into a brand that is always in sync with the time and his role. He understands the nuances of clothing, body language and communication, using them to great effect, from his Modi Kurta to the long-sleeved ones, the textures and colour combinations; his body language which can project complete aggression at one point and humility at others without losing the latent aggression; and his communication which speaks volumes of the nuances of language, voice and tenor which he uses to great effect to project the right image in the right situation.

Typical Threshold Situations of Everyday Life

School Students to Graduates to Professionals

Students entering college require a change in image. It is the first big transition, a major shift in threshold, and the way they handle this transition can build their confidence for the rest of their lives. Hence, it is of utmost importance that students project the image that gains respect and acceptance from fellow students on the one hand and the confidence of teachers on the other. In the process, they must gain confidence in themselves. Creating the right image helps them build a solid, credible persona which in turn can help them make the most of the opportunities available to them now and in future.

College graduates who are entering their first jobs too require a change in image. In interviews, when all capabilities are fairly even among candidates, it is first impressions that turn out to be the deciding factor. Once they enter the job, first impressions within the company count. It is time for them to shift gears from casual college attire, body language and communication to what is tuned towards the professional requirements. And it begins from the interview stage itself.

For Professionals

Professionals require change in image well before they are due for promotion or for a job change, for they must exude the persona required for the next threshold. With such a change, they can project the image that inspires confidence in others regarding their ability to handle the new professional role. Once they take on the new role, it is all the more important to make the other slight changes that are required as they take on the bigger responsibility and build new relationships required for this role.

And when professionals are part of an international team and are travelling abroad or even shifting abroad, it’s time to follow the adage, when in Rome, live as the Romans do. They certainly need a change in image. In a new culture, it is very important to integrate quickly and seamlessly to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. If there is one threshold situation that marks a big shift and requires a change in image, it is this. With big and small changes from clothing, grooming, body language to vocal communication, one cannot leave it to chance when taking the big step of travelling or moving abroad.

Home Makers to Professionals

Home makers who are entering a profession as consultants, into business ventures or into jobs most definitely need to focus on the image they project. What goes for home and social occasions does not fit with a professional image. With entry into the professional domain begins the need to change their image to project power, confidence, competence, quick understanding, sharp intellect, which are present in the home maker, but must now be projected without hesitation to gain the confidence of peers, colleagues, customers and the innumerable people they must deal with.

Crossing the Threshold of Marriage

On the personal front, marriage is one of the most critical threshold situations that men and women alike face. It involves stepping beyond their individual role into that of a partner and as the member of an entirely different family. First impressions are critical and men and women who prepare themselves for this role with a change in image find themselves creating the much required positive first impressions. It is all the more important to create the image that brings out their intrinsic selves that attunes them to a new family, greater responsibilities and a new role.

An Atypical Threshold Situation

There are many atypical threshold situations in life and the most difficult ones are those that pertain to re-entering the mainstream. It could be a person who has been given a new lease of life after lengthy recuperation from physical or mental illness, picking up the threads of life after disaster strikes, losing job during recession, entering the mainstream after serving time in prison, and many more. But, one situation which we don’t give much thought to is that of a prison convict who enters the main stream. It involves complete change in all aspects of life – getting a job, finding a home, re-forming their close relationships, finding acceptance in the mainstream – and it involves converting a negative perception into a positive one.

Prison Convicts to Main Stream

Convicts face negative perceptions when they are released from prison and enter the mainstream. This is evident particularly in the perceptions of interviewers when convicts try to gain much-needed employment. With a job in hand, they are far less likely to regress to their old lives and return to prison. While gaining a job is the most important requirement for ex-convicts, they must also fit into the unregulated life outside in many ways – from finding a place to stay to gaining the trust of people – family, peers, neighbours – and in the social sphere for them to integrate themselves into mainstream life. Nowhere is image management more critical than in this situation.

Each of us faces key threshold situations many times in our lives. The way we align ourselves to these situations by changing our image helps us gain confidence while creating positive first impressions in those first few seconds. These in turn create lasting impressions.

Equally important is the fact that when we make the appropriate changes in our image, it reinforces our confidence in ourselves, creating a positive image cycle. Image consultants understand this fact well and hence work with our inner selves to project a positive image. The result is greater professional achievement and meaningful relationships in our lives.

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Suman herself undertakes select personal consultation and corporate training assignments. Write to suman@imageconsultinginstitute.com for any such assignments.

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