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REP: The Expert's Opinion on ImpREssions in the Workplace

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Recall my last blog about ImpREssions in the Work Place? I was having an IM discussion with my buddy Kevin about why I think it’s important for your attire be polished. I think it gives others a positive first impression of you, while Kevin thinks it’s more important to deliver good work results and dress comfortably (pajamas or otherwise). I asked for your opinions and got some interesting (and mixed) reviews. Now, I’d like to bring in another perspective—my friend Michael, who I’d like to call our case “expert”.

The case continued…

Me: I’d now like to call to the stand our presiding expert. Michael, you have a deep understanding of the impact of impressions, correct?

Michael: Yes

Me: Can you please share your thoughts with the jury and use real life examples and case studies to illustrate your point?

Michael: Sure—people like to think that they are rational calculating creatures, using reason to judge others without prejudice or bias. And if the world were a perfect place, as Kevin envisions it, you would be judged solely on the quality of your work and the strength of your character. Opinions would be molded over time and first impressions wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, (for Kevin and the rest of us) they do matter. The fact is we instinctually form opinions of others at first glance. We don’t like to admit it but most of these opinions are made viscerally and within the first few seconds of meeting someone. We, as a species, are hardwired to judge a book by its cover. There is no better illustration of this than in the world of politics. Think to yourself, why is it that some seemingly unqualified politicians skyrocket to the top while other, brighter, policy wonks struggle unnoticed in the dungeons of some Washington think-tank? It’s charisma, presentation, attractiveness, style, and confidence; all of the superficial attributes that people like Kevin want to believe don’t matter in the big scheme of things but in actuality they do.

Me: Have you ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink?”

Michael: Yes. Malcolm Gladwell summarized this phenomenon in what he coined “the Warren G Harding effect” (named after the 29th President). Harding, in Gladwell’s analysis, was a feckless politician whose actual intelligence should never have allowed him to be considered for the highest office in the land. However, his impressive stature, presence, and determined look caused voters to subconsciously view him as a viable leader. He looked presidential and because of that, voters were more likely to consider voting for him. The way you present yourself can have a significant impact on how people view you and your actions. A well put-together ensemble or a clean look might make someone take a second look instead of just passing you by. And sometimes a second look is all you need. An extra millisecond of consideration can make the difference between winning an interview and being overlooked, between getting asked out on a date and watching “Samantha Who?” reruns alone with your cat, or becoming President of the United States instead of a has-been talking head on cable news.

Me: Are you saying superficial impressions are the only things that matter?

Michael: No, I’m not saying substance doesn’t matter nor am I saying image is everything (sorry Andre Agassi L). We work for a company that values results, and in the business world results (dollars and cents) matter. But just because we care about the bottom line that doesn’t mean impressions do not matter. Yes, results do matter, but those results don’t mean anything if you aren’t taken seriously in the first place.

Closing Remarks

Me: The corporate world is a jungle and it is survival of the fittest. If you don’t put yourself in the best possible light to succeed then it will be somebody else who gets the next big project, promotion, and recognition. So the next time you are thinking of just throwing on the same old pair of jeans for work because they are comfortable, easy, and they smell “sort of clean”, think about what your image is saying about your personal brand. What first impression do you want to make today? Who knows … someone might just take a second look.

Kevin: Sure, impressions matter. And sure, what you wear to work helps form others’ impressions of you. In fact, there are lots of variables that affect others’ impressions of you. Things like: how you speak, where you went to school, whether or not you’re nice, and even your age. Some variables have merit and others are questionable. My point is, at work (and in life), we should set aside superficial variables and focus on what is measurable—task orientation, results, and ability to make and meet commitments. Who’s to say it’s right or wrong to wear jeans? Who’s to say it’s right or wrong to wear a suit? We’re all Intel, and we all work toward one company goal.

Who do you agree with?