Impression management requires that people with disabilities learn to recognize and counteract the “halo effect.” In essence, the halo effect says that people with visible disabilities are angelic creatures who, as my grandmother use to say, “wouldn’t say dirt if they had a mouth full of it.”
In other words, we’re somehow above the worldly creatures of Earth. We don’t drink, smoke or swear. We would never steal, are always polite, and we’re cheerful. Indeed, one often hears people say, “But he’s so happy.” As though being happy is somehow, in and of itself, God’s make-up call for the disability in the first place.
The problem with this halo effect, or as I call it, “the innocence effect” is that it really limits your potential to meet people, make friends and get jobs. Imagine how you would feel if the person you were next to is somebody very close to Sainthood. Is this the kind of person you’d want to take out for pizza? Ok, Ok, so maybe you’d take St. Francis out to pick some flowers, but even then you’d keep expecting the birds to land on his shoulders. How disconcerting.
Saints just aren’t the folks that people say, “This person reminds me of myself. He’s comfortable to be around. Just the kind of person I want to work on the job with.” No, Saints just aren’t needed in the workplace.
What you’re striving for when you meet a potential employer is her going away from the meeting saying, “Now, that’s a person I feel comfortable around and can communicate easily with. Seems to me she has some real practical problem solving ability and can contribute positively to service growth.” If she feels like you’re a Saint it just won’t happen.
Let’s first give a few guidelines for how to recognize when somebody just might be treating you as though you’re a saint.
1. If the person speaks very softly, it’s a possibility. They are kind of acting as though they’re in a church.
2. If the waitress offers everyone at the table a choice of wines and offers you a list of soft drinks, you’re safe in assuming that your sainthood is close.
3. If a group of kids are yelling and laughing with one another until you get close, at which time they become very quiet, you just might want to consider that you’re being held pretty high on a pedestal.
So, here are a few techniques for counteracting the “halo effect.”
1. Decide whether the person you’re with is a “darn” or a “damn” person and use the least offensive word. That is, if you’re in a trucking office and the person is wearing a t-shirt you can safely use a sentence with damn in it. If on the other hand, you’re applying at the Catholic Charities office, you need to stick to “darn.” In either case, this establishes your lack of saintliness. Don’t try phooey, shucks, or gee-whiz. These will cement your sainthood.
2. If you’re at a reception in which alcohol is served, and your values allow for it, you might consider carrying around a drink that looks alcoholic, such as a bottle of beer. It’s a prop that sends that same “I’m not a saint” message. I’m not saying you should drink nor am I suggesting you should do this one if it’s against your values. What I am suggesting is that you must find a way to establish yourself as an ordinary person in the minds of those who think you are not of this Earth.
3. Sit in the back three rows of audiences when you can. This is where troublemakers and rebels sit so although it isn’t a strong message sender, (many people not of the troublemaking variety also sit there), it does add to your general image of human being.
4. You might consider such things as: multi-colored hair, nose rings, bellybutton rings, Etc. My only caveat with these devices is that although they do send messages of, “I’m not an angel,” they also offend some older people to the point that they may not see your other fine qualities. But, all of life is about mixing and matching our wardrobe for the right occasion. So, think about it and be your own judge. Some modern wardrobe accessories serve to send the message that you’re in touch with current fashions. Others say, “I’m a rebel.” Still others say, “I’m sexy.” All of this is important in its own way to help establish you as a person who is a part of modern society, not isolated from it.
5. Carry a copy of Rolling Stone around with you in case you need to pull it out and send a quick message of what, I’m not sure, but certainly not sainthood.
Please, add your methods of impression management for the halo effect in the comments section, so we can teach them to others. These elements of impression management are critical to your success in getting that job. When you go into that job interview there is little doubt of your underlying qualifications. In other words, you probably have the technical skills or you wouldn’t be there. Although there are other factors that play into an interview, the one that is essential is “chemistry.” Do you and the interviewer develop a chemistry of shared experience? If you do, the likelihood is that you’ve taken a big step toward the job. If not, you will seldom get the chance to show your skills.
So, send along your own techniques. Until then, I need to remove my nose ring, run this darn thing through the speller and send it off while the stylist finishes punking my hair.