I vividly remember my parents, teachers, and books preaching this noble but deluding ideal.
In a perfect business world, we will be judged by our performance and caliber alone. But most of us are no strangers to the disillusioning truth that “performance isn’t everything”. An example would be that you are the most capable person in the office, but your superiors and colleagues have this biased impression of your aptitude and attitude, and simply credit all your achievements to “luck”.
The truth is, you’re a star.
But the truth does not determine your career. Perception does. Because everyone judges.
The good news is, we have the power to turn that in our favor.
So here are the ABC’s to securing a smoother sailing and solid career by improving others’ perception of us.
C as in COMMUNICATION
Improve the way you communicate with others. 2 basic tips:
1. Tone of Voice.
Do we speak with a lackluster “I don’t really care” tone? Belittling? Unfriendly? And we wonder why people feel that way about us. Ask a close friend or family for a very honest opinion on how you sound.
Try sounding more enthusiastic or friendly when you speak. People prefer to be around happier people. Please note I said “more”, not “over”. Exercise moderation.
2. Content of Speech.
Did you know the most common contents of your speech suggests your attitude and personality? Some of the more common associations are: Complaining – Disagreeability; Blaming – Irresponsibility; Boasting – Arrogant; Unsolicited Advice – Nosy.
Avoid these, especially in business. Practice more professionalism in the content of your speech if you want to be seen as a respectable professional.
B as in BEHAVIOR
Before you have a chance to speak, people consciously or subconsciously observe the way you behave. Here are 2 powerful yet simple tools that can give you a boost:
Do people who shake hands with you feel like they are holding onto a dead fish? Or do they feel your hunger? Or do they feel humiliated instead? The power of a handshake is not to be underestimated.
A good handshake is one that tells people you are sincere, confident, and makes them feel important. Stand when shaking hands, face the person and maintain eye contact. Shake once or twice with a firm grip. Do not misinterpret a firm grip as a Dwayne Johnson fist crush. Lock hands with the palms and webs of your hands touching the other person’s. That suffices as a firm grip. A handshake can make or break a business relationship. Practice until you get it right.
Remember the ballroom scene from The Devil Wears Prada? Anne Hathaway whispered a guest’s personal details to Meryl Streep and was then given many opportunities. This is the power of introductions.
When introducing people, avoid introducing on a first name basis. Instead, use the full or last name, complete with any honorific titles. If the person prefers a first name basis, he/she can reintroduce himself/herself that way. No matter your relationship, it never hurts to be careful. Bonus: Drop hints about both people to help them start a friendly conversation and you will make an impression.
A as in APPEARANCE
Even if you do behave and communicate well, it is most often your appearance that first greets another person and forms that crucial first impression. So here are some simple tips to get you started:
1. Dress Codes.
Does the way you dress tell people you’re ready for business or the outing tonight? Does it say “I want to look right” or “I want to look fashionable”? There’s no definite “right” or “wrong” look for business, but the industry of the people involved do have standards. Is your business or industry so forward and creative that you should be following the fashion magazines?
If there is a dress code, adhere. This shows others that your ability to respect rules whether or not you like it. It also shows that the other party is important enough for you to follow their rules. When people feel respected and important, you are already off to a good start.
2. Right Clothes.
Are your clothes oversized or figure hugging? Or do they look like they’re twenty years old or haven’t been ironed since you first bought them? Overly loose clothes might translate to an image of laziness, tardiness, or weakness, especially for men; while tight clothes, for both men and women, are simply distracting. Old-looking and wrinkled clothes could be justifiably misinterpreted as “I’m overworked, underpaid”.
Get the right fit. Care for your clothes. If you are serious about your image, get the services of an Image Consultant specialized in corporate grooming. Business grooming and social grooming are very different worlds. Don’t get a stylist to dress you up for business. Just like you won’t get a pole dancer to teach you ball room dancing. Similar field, different specialty.
These are just few of the things that I learnt many years ago from a business grooming image consultant and applied to my career, ending a painful eighteen-month unemployment stretch and finally becoming the Country Director for one of the largest media conglomerates in Asia Pacific in less than 7 years.
I’ve made a difference to my career and my life. So can you. Apply these tips and see the change. Better still, attend image workshops.
I recently attended an image workshop by Sheila Wong, the Image Consultant who helped me those years ago, and found it was a very informative and engaging session covering Grooming, Business Etiquette, even Body Language. Check out SWET Advancement Centre’s “Up Your Image Quotient (Up Your IQ)” at http://www.swet.com.my/uyiq.
Improve your professional Communications, Behavior, and Appearance. Invest in your image. Your Return on Investment (ROI) could be your future, just like me. Because everyone judges.