We need to talk. No, it’s not about our relationship. It’s about your LinkedIn profile picture. It says more about you than you might realize.
Before you read on, let’s be clear about what this post is and isn’t. We’re not at all here to say what you should or shouldn’t do on your LinkedIn profile. Instead, our intent is to use this and a few other examples to highlight what your choice of nonverbal expression, via pictures and actions, says about you. Whether it’s intended or not.
This idea came about a few days ago while perusing lists of “People You May Know” suggestions on LinkedIn. We were surprised to see the wide variety of pictures people chose for their profiles. Sprinkled among the typical headshots of smiling folks in business attire and quirky photos of folks who have (or are looking for) quirky jobs, there were some pictures that made us pause and think, “What is this image communicating, and is that what this person intended?”
Here are a few takeaway learnings about nonverbal cues that may apply to your LinkedIn profile or, more broadly, the subtleties of how you and others communicate.
What does a background that features partying with your buddies at a bar convey? It could be that you’re a fun-loving extroverted salesperson. Perhaps you have a keen ability for informal networking. On the other hand, unfiltered and unabashed associations with mind-altering substances may show a lack of judgment or attention to detail.
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Images that feature a hotel bedroom or a beach in the background might be a positive association for someone in the hospitality industry. Others may interpret it as inappropriately suggestive or that you prioritize vacation time over work.
The same idea applies to the desktop wallpaper and lock screen on your laptop at work. Don’t forget that you also use this computer for presentations to clients or employees with whom you may not wish to share personal pictures.
Car Selfies (or Selfies Pretty Much Anywhere)
A selfie, especially one taken in a car, could suggest you’re impulsive or impetuous (are you the driver who almost hit me while checking your cellphone?) or not effective at utilizing resources and social relationships (doesn’t this person have at least one friend to take a professional picture for him?).
Non Sequitur Props
Sure, holding a musical instrument can make your profile picture stand out, but do you want me to think of you first as a musician or as a strategist? It’s confusing, like this traffic sign.
Thinking about these profile pictures and their deliberate or unintended messages reminded us of a couple of other key lessons in nonverbal communication. We try to be mindful of these when, instead of spending time stalking LinkedIn for misguided profile pictures, we’re working on market research projects, out with clients or conducting in-person interviews.
- Greeting interviewees. During research at focus group facilities, moderators have the choice of having someone else bring the interviewee into the room or walking out to the waiting room by themselves to greet the interviewee. The latter approach may be perceived as a gesture of equality and warmth, while the prior may communicate a different power dynamic altogether.
- Leaning in during in-person interviews. At times, something as subtle as a shift of posture by a moderator, such as leaning in to communicate interest, can have the effect of bringing out deeper engagement with an interviewee. Further, a moderator who intentionally, although subtly, mirrors the postural changes of the interviewee may find that this gesture triggers a stronger connection and trust during the conversation.
- Spending your downtime between interviews. During the time between interviews, moderators have the choice of staying on the other side of the glass reviewing their notes or emails, phone messages, etc., or they can come back behind the glass and demonstrate that they are open for conversation with their client about the interviews. When communication dies down behind the glass, moderators should be careful to spend their time productively (e.g., focused on summarizing the research, etc.) as opposed to communicating a lack of engagement with the project to their client (e.g., holiday gift shopping online).
The takeaway here is to take a step back before displaying a profile picture that does not communicate to the world exactly the type of person and (potential) employee or leader you are. The next time you’re out with people, take note of your stance, posture and facial expressions, and whether that affects how others communicate with you. Think about how the way you greet someone sets the tone for the next few minutes of conversation.
Even when we’re not talking, posting or tweeting, we’re communicating. Sometimes in a big way, and unwittingly the opposite of what we intend to convey.