Monday, July 15, 2013

Image (or when in Rome)

I hate to admit it but the way I dress influences my communication effectiveness.

It's not new to me that dress influences perceptions and can create barriers or openings to communication. For most of my life, I've taken a very nondescript approach to the way I dress. I have wanted to be approachable while claiming that I'm utilitarian (so as to not let on that I am manipulating my dress for the sake of approachability). My typical nondescript style of dress works for stages, working in coffee shops, working in offices, paying visits to important people, being a pedestrian, matching clothes in a pinch or in a hurry, and washing economically (always in cold!).

Lately, I've become a bit lazy about the way I dress, however. My typical nondescript dress has transformed, I suppose, into a bit of a rebellion where I let my clothes wear out to shreds. I pull my hair back in a messy little bun and wear my shoes into the ground. I even write notes to myself on my arm.

I've been reading a lot lately about effective communication. It's become important to be able to communicate with many kinds of people because of the different kinds of work I do and because of the many different circles I run in. In one of the books I have been reading (Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere by Gayle Cotton), I learned that there are only two kinds of communication: effective communication and miscommunication. Dress can be a form of miscommunication. For example, if you want to connect with people and you are slovenly in an environment in which slovenly is not the norm, people may have already decided whether you are worth listening to or not. This could be a crucial thing in some cases.

I also learned that in order to effectively communicate, one must be proactive, which sometimes means dressing the part when in Rome (to your level of comfort, of course). If I want people to open up, perhaps I should take more personal care in the way I present myself. If I want to be taken seriously, perhaps I should nix the crib note taking on my arm and find a proper pair of shoes. If I go to certain parts of India, and I want to proactively communicate, it may prove helpful to dress in the native dress to show that I want to be active in that community. If I go to a rock concert, it might be a good idea to not wear my business casual meeting attire but perhaps instead, a rock concert t-shirt.

I feel that many friends will say that this is a load. I think I have been saying this, too. Why should I change to fit someone else's expectations? Lately, while at work or wherever I am, I have had this sinking feeling that I am not taken very seriously or that I am somehow unapproachable (see rebellion cribs above). I would love to be able to just talk with people without having to cater my dress to whatever environment I might find myself in. It does seem, however, that the world doesn't really work that way. A first impression in most cases can make or break us, open us up to new conversations and bring on some strikes that are difficult to remove once pitched. I have to be proactive if I want to make an impression and further, the way I dress is a sort of communication.