I have blogged about the philosophy ‘Perception is reality’ before, a powerful statement that can be applied to all aspects of life as we work to understand each other. Recently I churned through the book Overcoming Your Strengths by Lois Frankel and she makes a few very interesting points with regards to communication, first impressions and the evolving workplace dress codes.

pg. 84   Dr. Allan Weiner, president of Communication Development Associates has conducted research that suggests in day-to-day communication the impression we make on others is based largely on how we work and sound. The following chart reveals that, in fact, 90% of that impression is based on factors related to other than what we actually say.


pg. 83:  Perhaps the seminal defining moment of the importance of image was the Kennedy/Nixon debate of 1960. Although most of us can’t remember the content of the debate, we do remember the physical appearance of the candidates as they sat on the platform. Despite the fact that Kennedy was in poor health, he looked youthful, tan, poised and relaxed. Although only four years Kennedy’s senior, Nixon (who refused to wear television makeup) looked wan and tired. In terms of outcome, polls of television views conducted after the debate gave Kennedy the edge, while polls of radio listeners reported Nixon the victor.

It is something worth reflecting on and takes me back to one of my first sales lessons when I was still in University. I learned my very first sales lessons at a high end men’s wear store that had the highest dollars per square foot in the province in a small blue collar city. I learned it from a man who exuded confidence, paid attention to detail and had tons of local customers. He said ‘You can tell a lot about a man by his shoes’.

I often wonder what message the young intern in the office is trying to convey when they show up in jeans and a sweatshirt? Or what message the gentlemen in the 3 piece suit and tie is trying to convey when he does not see customers and everyone else is dressed business casual?

Personally, attention to these details is a way of life in business. It was reinforced at my second job, where I sold fax machines. I was working from home and went into the office wearing jeans and a t-shirt as I was going to work at the photocopier making fliers for a campaign I was executing in my territory (In the old days … we made our own sales brochures). The sales VP walked by the room and stopped. He was not happy. He walked over and said one simple thing:

‘You are a sales professional. You are the face of our business to the customer. The staff in the office have perceptions of the sales leaders and look at them as our face to the customer. Don’t ever let me or anyone in the office ever see you dressed like that again’

He turned and left. It never happened again.

PS: Dr. Frankel wrote an interesting article on the topic for Fast Company here. A few thought provoking ideas.

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