Keeping up Appearances

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Remember the old adage “You never get a second chance to make a first impression?” I’d like to share my thoughts on that conventional wisdom. I both totally agree with it and think it’s crazy. Maybe that makes ME crazy. I’ll let you decide for yourself on that one.

In my line of work, making a good first impression is key. I’m a consultant, so I have the good fortune to work with many different clients on many different projects. However, that good fortune brings with it some simple but weighty responsibilities. I have a responsibility to my employer and to my client to make a good first impression. My responsibility to my employer is to make sure that they are represented professionally, and the impression I give to a new client sets the stage for that representation. My responsibility to my client is to provide them with dependable, reliable professional services. A solid first impression ensures them that I and my work will indeed be professional and reliable. Or does it?

How many times have you met someone, had an initial impression of that person, and then only days or weeks later radically altering that impression? I’ve run into this situation many times in my personal and professional lives. My first feeling is “Wow, I really like this person!,” only to realize that I liked the impression, not the person. Conversely, I’ve met people who, for whatever reason, “rubbed me the wrong way” at first but became a great friend or co-worker over time.

Whether you’ve had similar experiences or not, you might be saying, “Well, that’s great, Mike A, but so what? Things change – we all know that!” Yes, we do all know that, but I think we tend to forget it in our day-to-day interactions with others. The first impression is indeed key, but the ongoing impressions we make on people are equally powerful. While I may not have a chance to make multiple FIRST impressions, my actions certainly can impact others’ ONGOING impressions of me, my work, and my company.

It only takes one yawn during a meeting, one roll of the eyes at a comment, one moment’s attention paid to email rather than the conversation, or one tardy arrival to a meeting to change someone’s impression of you. Then again, it only takes one exemplary requirements model, one case of going above-and-beyond, one smile or “hello” in the hallway, or one artful mediation of a conflict to change that impression, too.

Shouldn’t others’ impressions of you be based on your work, and not on all this other stuff that has nothing to do with the quality of your requirements documentation? No, it shouldn’t. Our work is about much more than delivering an SRS or a set of use cases, and the more you embrace the “intangibles” of requirements engineering, the more successful you will be overall. And whether you’re a consultant, an in-house expert, or someone who was thrown into the world of requirements with little or no training, this focus on the impressions you make will serve you and your clients well.

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