The Psychology of Image
Kenny Ray Morgan
Our image begins with physical presentation. However, it doesn't end there. Each and every day of our lives, others will judge us subconsciously based on our appearance, verbalization, communications, attitude, poise, character and many other elements; all of which embodies the concept of image. We instinctively size one another up, based on our own internal value systems. It's my intent here to concentrate on image from a professional and physical point of view. Why? Because once again, our image begins with our physical presentation, how we look and dress. This becomes all the more important, because with the drastic shift in our economical climate highlighted by: lay-offs, downsizing, foreclosures, bailouts, etc., one needs each and every advantage to continue to strive and not just survive in a recovering economy.
Take a minute to consider the following questions: What message am I sending when I step out of my house? Do I look like a professional in the eyes of those whom I wish to influence or impress? Am I ppropriately dressed for the occasion? Is my appearance and visual image congruent with my competency level? Is my image at work helping me to get the results, recognition and the promotions I deserve? Does my appearance help to boost a feeling of confidence and give me a sense of self-assurance in the company ofothers? If while reading any of these probing questions, the thought of "CHANGE" came to mind, then you're probably right. It's time to make the necessary changes such that, your image is never a distraction or hindrance to your quest for success in life; but rather an asset and an enhancement. Now, with image as a non-issue, attention can be solely focused on your intellectual capacities, your ability to do the job and the contributions you're capable of bringing to the table.
Keep in mind, every time you meet with or interact with others, you're literally making a mini-presentation of yourself. This is where the judgments and opinions of you are locked in their subconscious, as to who they perceive you to be. Now when it comes to image and first impressions "perception is reality."
I'm reminded of being in the Mall of America a few months ago. On this particular day I was "dressed to the nines" as we say in the industry. I was adorned in a full length black cashmere/wool topcoat with the collar turned fully up, with a super 120's all wool black double-breasted pinstripe suit. My crisp white shirt had an eye catching cut-a-way collar. The beautiful silk tie accented the bright gold pinstripes in the suit. To finish off this ensemble, I sported a long flowing all silk white on white neck scarf. As I proceeded to check out the suits in this well know specialty department store, I happen to glanced across the isle and my eyes locked with those of a handsome little boy. When I turned away, all of a sudden from across the showroom floor in a loudly pitched soprano voice I heard, "MOMMY!, MOMMY!, LOOK! LOOK! IT'S LUKE SKYWALKER!" Sure enough, it was that little handsome lad, he could have been no more than four or five years old. He perceived me to be that action character from Stars Wars and undoubtedly at that particular moment, no one was going to convince him otherwise. Based on my appearance and image, his initial perception of me became his reality.
We should have clear-cut goals as to the message we want to send with regard to our image, and dress in a manner that's consistent with those goals, to yield the desired results. Behavior scientist tell us that we notice the following characteristics about every human being we see in this order: Skin Color, Sex, Age, Bearing (height, body language, etc.), Appearance, Direct Eye Contact, and Speech. The first three of these we have absolutely no control over. However, we can take full advantage of this knowledge to help us enhance and control the best image we can present. Since 8o% of what others see of us is our clothing, let's examine some basic faux pas that, if we take care to conscientiously avoid; we'll remain well above the learning curve when it comes to projecting our best possible professional image. Please be reminded that these are just a few, directed toward men and women, or both:
1. MEN, never ever wear a short sleeve shirt with a tie (no, not even in the summertime). Short sleeve dress shirts are perceived as lower class apparel. Now this is acceptable if it's a part of a uniform or you're the manager in a fast food restaurant. But not for projecting a professional image that commands authority.
2. Never wear soiled, tattered , wrinkle, or unclean clothing. This is quite often interpreted to mean that, the individual is to nonchalant about his or her appearance and uncaring about the details and will probably be likewise about their work.
3. WOMEN, should never wear any low-cut cleavage bearing tops and see-through blouses in a professional setting. Hemlines should be no shorter than two inches above the knee. Deviations in these areas could very easily be misconstrued to suggest a hidden manipulative agenda. Why risk it?
4. MEN, you should never wear a belt and braces (suspenders) at the same time. To do so could send a subconscious message of insecurity.
5. As shoes are one of the most evaluated elements of our appearance, they should always be well maintained, cleaned and shinned at all times. They should be free of scuff marks, discolorations, worn and broken heels. To ignore this important component is to surely commit image sabotage.
6. Never take grooming for granted. It is as important as the clothes we wear. It's imperative to present a well-groomed appearance; clean skin, neat, cleaned and well styled hair, no chipped or dirty fingernails, tastefully applied make-up, and pleasant breath. Any perfumes or colognes should always be used sparingly.
Remember, an impeccable image speaks volume. It reflects confidence, attention to details, organizational strength, strong work habits and a conscientious positive attitude. So think very hard about what you want your image to covey or say about you. Sergio Valente, the French Designer said it well, "How you look tells the world how you feel." If you've determined that a change is in order, take it one step at a time. After all, as the Chinese Proverb states, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with but one step."
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