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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

Workplace Doctor: Go with your instinct for a social media profile of self-confidence

Is it wrong to use a profile picture on my social media account that is 10 years out of date?
Debbie Nicol advises us to do what we feel is right to us. Sarah Dea / The National
Debbie Nicol advises us to do what we feel is right to us. Sarah Dea / The National

I use social media a lot for my work and have used the same profile picture on all the different mediums such as LinkedIn and Twitter. However, when I meet contacts in person they always seem surprised when I introduce myself. Admittedly I have used an older picture that I like of myself that was taken 10 years ago. So should I update it or should I stick with an image I like because it is flattering? RM, Dubai

Thanks for writing in about this topic – it’s more common than you may think. Your current picture clearly speaks loudly to you and I suspect brings back special memories. I too have a photo I use often that attracts similar comments to yours, taken directly after a 10-day detox when my weight was reduced and my glow was shining brightly.

I also facilitate global learning communities online, and we are all required to add a photo to help our learning experience be as close to a real classroom as possible. Yet again, once the course is over and if I happen to see those people in real life, I always wonder how their photo was nothing like them at all.

Some photos used for identifying ourselves have such tight guidelines we have no chance of liking them. One example of this would be the photo for an Australian drivers’ licence or passport for which you must have your mouth fully closed. This is not a good look for me at all. Yet your letter has prompted me to think about when we can apply relative freedom to the choice of photos, what it is that influences us. Perhaps it’s a “feelgood” emotion; we want others to see us enjoying ourselves, while others may choose to represent what they think is expected of them such as a formal business pose rather than a relaxed, smiling or laughing pose.

You ask specifically for advice about whether to update the photo or whether to stick with an image you like because it is flattering. This really has no answer as such and is simply a choice; whatever you choose will simply have different consequences. What you consider flattering may not be flattering in somebody else’s eyes and you can never please everyone.

If your social media accounts are followed closely by your business contacts, then it would be wise to keep the picture as professional as possible. Remember a favourite picture of you on holiday might be more appropriate for a private Facebook account than a LinkedIn account.

Here’s a suggestion – how about changing the photo on a regular basis and embedding this favourite one in multiple times? So for example, one from 10 years ago could be balanced with one from last week, then another from a year ago ,then back to your favourite. By doing this, you may find people’s attention moving away from “judgement” and more into the experience of “wow, wonder what photo will be next?” It might even become a talking point.

Have you given thought to your verbal response for those who express surprise when you meet? I would get their minds off judgement and focused on the things that never change. My height would be a great talking point here, something like “well, I’m still definitely short”. Quite frankly I have stopped asking people the question “Oh, why do you feel it looks different?” for two reasons: a) that can put them in a difficult place where I see them shuffling nervously and b) by asking them, it also indicates that their opinion is important and puts their opinion over your own, showing self-doubt.

Perhaps future technology will allow us to have a “live” photo displaying every day, exactly as we are on that day – now there’s something to think about.

Doctor’s prescription

Do what feels right to you. When you do, others will simply detect your confidence and build trust in your decision.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague