Your image is your most important communication tool – Lauren Solomon, “Image Matters”
In the world of business today, how we look and present ourselves is a key consideration in achieving a higher degree of professional success. It is no longer enough just to be smarter and more qualified than our peers; we also have to look smart and qualified. Studies have proven that there is a clear link between appearance and career advancement.
The way people perceive us, regardless of how realistic their impression might be, often has a significant influence on our initial success or failure. From personal experience, I have learned that people who cultivate their image deliberately and strategically often have more doors open to them than those who neglect their appearance or present themselves carelessly.
Whether we like it or not, everyone has an image; the question is whether we are aware of it and whether we are prepared to do to what it takes to make it work in our favor.
A recent Elle/MSNBC Work and Power Survey reported that “good looking bosses were found to be more competent, collaborative and better delegators than their less attractive counterparts”. Since our actions and motives are constantly under scrutiny, we would be wise to pay attention to our professional image and learn how to manage it before others do it for us.
And looking good has nothing to do with physical age. I know plenty of “mature” men and women who look and feel 10 times better than their 25 year-old counterparts. In fact, I have learned to appreciate and even love my wisdom lines because I’ve earned them!
Nevertheless, being consistent in how we present ourselves and having the personality to match our image is vital to ensuring that people take us seriously. At the end of the day, they simply want to know who they are dealing with and whether he or she is the best person for the job.
Based on 25 years of experience in the business world, here are my suggestions for creating a winning image:
Dress for the occasion
Ségolène Royal, the socialist politician and candidate for the 2007 French presidential elections has learned to leverage her feminine appearance. When speaking to the general public, she wears mostly dresses or skirts and is often dressed in white. A black leather jacket is suitable when meeting with university students while a smart, dark business suit works well when addressing the military. Her image and clothing have become part of her political communication strategy.
Luckily for her, as a woman, Ségolène Royal has a lot more possibilities to choose from than her male counterparts. She has also understood that the proper use of color is vital to enhancing her political image.
Use colors to enhance your message
The use of color plays a significant role in memory recall and, more than any other method of communication, has the power to convey a message instantly. Of course, colors must be well chosen, depending on the image we want to present, the culture we come from and the company or business we work in.
In the Western world, you can experiment the effectiveness of colors by wearing red when negotiating an issue or confronting someone; blue to signal that you are open to communicate and possibly to compromise; green to manifest collaboration and the ability to work in a team; yellow is ideal for a brain storming session or problem solving as it stimulates our intellect and that of those around us; orange projects a sense of confidence and power; both purple and pink evoke creativity, fun and excitement; white of course is the universal color and send a message of purity and simplicity.
Your body as a communication tool
Our image conveys the degree of trust and confidence people will have in us. To ensure that we are sending out the right signals, we should never forget that our bodies are our most important communication tool. Appropriate body language starts with maintaining eye contact and always keeping good posture.
Eye contact is important whether we are having a private conversation or are speaking to a large audience. By avoiding making eye contact, we are sending out a signal that perhaps we lack confidence or are nervous and unprepared.
Our posture automatically gives people an impression of our authority and attitude. To convey an air of self-assurance, we must avoid slouching or taking postures that may project a lack of self-confidence. To improve your posture, place your feet shoulder width apart and lean slightly forward. By pulling your shoulders slightly forward at the same time, you’ll appear more confident. Your head and spine should be held straight but in a natural, relaxed way that looks comfortable.
Whether we are interviewing for a job, climbing the corporate ladder or already in the corner office, dynamic and clear body language helps to communicate a sense of trust and competence. Walking, talking and looking like a trustworthy and confident person will encourage people to believe in us and follow us.
Create your image
The American actress Mae West once said “It isn’t what I do, but how I do it. It isn’t what I say, but how I say it, and how I look when I do it and say it.”
Bear in mind that the majority of people make decisions based on an initial impression of what they see, smell or hear. When meeting people, we might sometimes remind ourselves that they do not have a copy of our Curriculum Vitae in front of them and that our appearance is usually the only key they have to go by. For this reason, it is even more important to understand what our appearance says about us and what kind of message it communicates.
The truth is that there are scores of experts with the right qualification and credentials who are barely ever recognized. On the other hand, there are just as many people who may not have the same background or skills but who win people’s confidence simply because they know the importance of image and are adept at presenting themselves well. One only has to look at the current European or American political scene to see a prime example of this fact.
Communicate the message you want to send out
People constantly observe our behavior and form theories about our abilities or character. By having a clear picture of the image we want to present and expressing it to others, we can influence people’s ideas about who we are and what we are capable of.
We are walking advertisements for ourselves. Our appearance and behavior have an enormous impact on the way people perceive us. When we look and act the part, we reinforce who we are and what we can offer.
Nevertheless, while physical appearance and appropriate behavior are fundamental to successfully projecting our image, we should never forget the importance of credibility and authenticity. Without these key characteristics, any attempt to influence people and gain their trust will be undermined. Only by presenting ourselves in a way that is true to who we are and can be believed by others, will we create a winning image that reflects our true self.
Originally published in Prague Leaders Magazine.