Perception management involves actively performing (or not performing) a set of activities and behaviors in order to thoughtfully and deliberately manage how other people perceive you. These activities and behaviors are in areas like verbal and non-verbal communication, work environment, volunteerism, and image. In today’s blog, I’m going to talk about image.
People make up their minds about you within the first few seconds of meeting you. The only thing under your control at that point is your appearance. A positive impression will create a halo effect, positively coloring a person’s feelings about you for the next several minutes. If you begin with a negative impression, it will be very hard to change. But it doesn’t end with first impressions. People are confirming or revising their opinion about you every time they meet you. While having a solid, established, positive reputation can smooth over a few faux pas, perception management can let you save that for when you really need it.
I grew up with a casual approach to dressing. Most days, I wore jeans and a flannel shirt, and that’s still my preference. However, I have slowly and reluctantly come to the conclusion that I have to pay more attention to my attire, everyday and everywhere. Whether I’m at work, at the store, volunteering at soccer, or at church, I run into people that I know and meet new people. If I want them to see me as a savvy business professional, I have to “act” the part by dressing like a savvy business professional.
If you think that how people dress doesn’t make a difference, consider how dress is viewed in our society. A future MBA student was telling me about the game show “Cash Cab.” If the contestant needs help, they are allowed to ask a person on the street (a street shout-out), in which case, the contestant usually looks for a man in a suit. Why? “…because they think he’ll be Ivy League educated.” (greenbaypressgazette.com) People wearing a suit are simply assumed to be educated professionals.
This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit everyday, but a little attention to your appearance will go a long way for perception management. Upgrade from jeans and a t-shirt to khakis and a polo. Save your sneakers for the gym, and buy yourself some nice leather shoes. Looking good doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable.
Dress like you are going to meet the most influential person in your life. You just might.