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Appearance Counts

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Appearance Counts

Books are judged by their covers, houses are appraised by their curb appeal, and people are initially evaluated on how they choose to dress and behave. In a perfect world this is not fair, moral, or just. What’s inside should count a great deal more. And eventually it usually does, but not right away. In the meantime, a lot of opportunities can be lost.

In our lives, hundreds of very important decisions have already been made for us that impact every aspect of our lives. Our gender, skin color, height, the number of hair follicles on our head, the shape and size of our hands and feet, as well as who our parents are, our siblings, our early child hood circumstances, and the country of our birth are factors that we do not control or influence.

But we can control how we portray ourselves to the outer world. In transformational learning, the idea is to start at a place that is most visible and allows for immediately recognized results. Wardrobe, grooming, and nonverbal communication are aspects that are apparent on the outside to the outside world. Combined, these factors can frame us as competent, knowledgeable, elegant, gracious, powerful, or anything else we choose to communicate.

You Have Just Thirty Seconds
Social psychologists studying the impact of image have determined that’s how long it takes for someone meeting you to form a whole laundry list of impressions about your character and abilities. The list of impressions encompasses:

  • Educational level
  • Career competence and success
  • Personality
  • Level of sophistication
  • Trustworthiness
  • Sense of humor
  • Social heritage
  • Now, thirty seconds doesn’t give you time to pull out your college transcript, showcase your resume, or present character references. It doesn’t allow any time to explain that you have talent, skills, training, and a substantial list of truly satisfied employers and customers.

    In thirty seconds, people form all those different impressions based almost entirely on what they see—your clothes, hairstyle, carriage, smile, and the rest of your nonverbal communications. Appearances do count.

    These quick impressions can be lasting ones. Psychologists call it the halo effect. When your visual message is positive, the person you’ve just met will tend to assume that other aspects about you are equally positive. But unfortunately, if your visual message is negative, that new customer, client, co-worker, or prospective employer may not spend the time and effort to discover the talented person inside.

    Appearances count in today’s world—as much or even more than in earlier decades. Rigid “success dressing” rules have yielded to new, more flexible guidelines that encompass casual business looks as well as traditional power suits. But as the speed of the business world accelerates, the importance of making a positive first impression increases, too.

    Appearances count, not only in first impressions, but also in ongoing interactions. In his comprehensive research on communication, sociolinguist Albert Mehrabian found that in a face-to-face encounter, 7 percent of a verbal message comes from the words used; 38 percent comes from the vocal tone, pacing, and inflection; 55 percent of the message is transmitted by the speaker’s appearance and body language.
    Appearances count, especially in the business world. When one college’s career planning and placement center surveyed 150 employers, they discovered that the number-one reason for rejecting an applicant after the first interview was poor personal appearance.

    Interestingly, those employers ranked poor appearance even more significant than being a “hostile, overbearing know-it-all” (reason no. 9) or “late for the interview without good reason” (reason no. 28). Obviously hostility or tardiness isn’t encouraged either, but the findings certainly support the importance of appearance.

    Courses that help managers become better interviewers stress learning to bypass those first impressions and go deeper. They train the interviewer to suspend judgment in the first thirty seconds and even the first five minutes. Why? Because those immediate instinctual reactions are so ingrained. Thousands of years ago a human’s survival often depended on how shrewdly and quickly he or she could size up a situation. Only those who could “read” others accurately lived to fight another day.

    Amazingly, appearances count even when nobody else sees you! One study says that Americans have the opportunity to see their own reflection (in mirrors, windows, elevator doors, etc.) up to fifty-five times every day. That means fifty-five opportunities to feel instantaneously good, indifferent, or even negative about your physical self.
    Appearances count—often in cold, hard cash. Dr. Judith Walters of Fairleigh Dickinson University researched the impact of an effective business appearance on a starting salary. She sent out a group of identical resumes to more than a thousand companies. Some resumes were accompanied by a “before” photo of the applicant, others by an “after” photo. Each company was asked to determine a starting salary.

    The results were amazing. Starting salaries ranged 8 to 20 percent higher as the result of upgrading a mediocre business appearance to one that is polished and effective. Employers are willing to pay for people who look the part. If the employee already projects an image of professionalism, that’s one less thing—one potentially unpleasant thing—that the firm has to worry about.

    * Source- The New Professional Image, Susan Bixler, Adams Media

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