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Business dress, personal grooming, body language, and attitude are components of a person’s professional appearance. These things can serve as forms of nonverbal communication and send messages to others about an individual. Before a person ever speaks a word, typically others around them can make judgments and form opinions based on the subtle messages provided by that person’s appearance. These components largely influence how well an individual is received and how well their message in heard.
They can also affect ongoing things like job performance and financial compensation.
I researched how these components of professional appearance can affect an individual in the business environment. In this paper, I provided examples of some factors that are considered in a person’s professional appearance in detail. Also, I provided some general guidelines to follow to present a proper professional appearance. Finally, I outlined some examples of how these things can serve to help or harm an individual in the workplace. Keywords: nonverbal communication, business attire, hygiene, body language, attitude.
“First impressions are often lasting impressions; research shows that 55 percent of this first impression is based on appearance” (Chaney & Martin, 2007). Opinions can be formed before any verbal communication is ever made. Considering this, professional appearance is an important factor in how a person is perceived and how well they are received in the business world. It can also impact how well an individual performs and how long they are able to maintain a presence in that environment.
Professional appearance includes a person’s business dress, personal grooming, body language, and attitude. How does professional appearance affect you in the business world? Consider the following situation. You have two candidates for a sales position that you are going to interview. Both have very similar work experience, educational backgrounds, and seem similarly qualified. The first applicant shows up early for the interview. He is conservatively dressed in a stylish black suit.
His overall appearance is pleasant as he is well groomed. He shows up ten minutes early and stands patiently waiting in the lobby for his interview. He appears relaxed, confident, and prepared. As you meet he gives you a firm handshake and courteous smile. The second applicant shows up for the interview right on time. He is dressed in a trendy suit with a brightly colored shirt and bold tie. His hair is slightly messy and his cologne is a bit strong. He sits in the lobby tapping his feet as he waits. When you approach him to introduce yourself, he shakes your hand quickly. You notice that he struggles to keep eye contact with you. Considering this scenario, without knowing anything about how either interview went, who would you think would be more inclined to be seriously considered for the job? Which person made the better first impression before any words were spoken? Who do you think would be more likely to get called back for a second interview? Attire, personal grooming, body language, and attitude all impact professional appearance.
Clean, neatly pressed clothing shows that a person is mindful of their appearance. Conservative clothing minimizes distractions from the message an individual is trying to communicate to their audience. Care in personal grooming and hygiene can either draw people toward someone and keep an audience engaged or cause them to lose focus. In regards to a person’s personal grooming, messy hair, excessive makeup, and/or poor hygiene can draw attention toward these negatives and turn an audience off. In the same way body language can have a similar impact. For example, poor posture, fidgeting, and lack of eye contact can negatively affect appearance whereas good posture, calm demeanor, and good eye contact can engage an audience. Lastly, attitude also serves to either attract or distract from an individual’s intended message.
Chaney and Martin stated, “Those who protest the unfairness of evaluating someone based primarily on appearance would be wise to face the reality that people make judgments of others in less than a minute” (p. 13). They also went on to state, “these assumptions about another person include educational level, occupation, social and economic status, credibility, personality, trustworthiness, and probability of succeeding” (Chaney & Martin, 2007, p. 13). Appearance can certainly affect decision making, whether by a potential employer, client, or colleague. In a business environment, appearance can impact not only a person’s ability to establish a relationship, but it can also affect their compensation, how well they perform, and how far they advance in their role. This is supported by Chaney and Martin (2007) “Appearance is also a basis for determining a person’s starting salary and for career advancement” (p. 13).
Business dress is an important factor in a person’s professional appearance. The business attire one chooses to wear can be the first impression that is made and “may follow you indefinitely” (Casperson, 1999, p. 25). Casperson (1999) states, “Before you speak a word, your clothes have already spoken volumes” (p. 25). According to Bowman (2007) “Attire is a critical tool in business that is far too often overlooked” (p. 164). This thought is also supported by Casperson (1999) when he stated, “You present your professional polish, competence, and knowledge in a few brief seconds, then fill in the gaps with words” (p. 25). Clearly, business dress is important and should not be overlooked. Business attire can be influenced by things like gender, industry, culture, and work environment. According to Casperson (1999) “Demographics and your particular field of business define the appropriateness of what you wear to work every day as well as what you wear for business events” (p. 27).
Even after a person has determined what is appropriate for their work situation or environment, color, fabric, and quality of clothing should be taken into consideration (Chaney & Martin, 2007). The color one wears is typically the first thing noticed, followed by the fabric and quality, which can express expensive or cheap material (Chaney & Martin, 2007). “Business professionals need to be aware that clothing can project credibility and power” according to Chaney and Martin (2007, p. 18). Traditionally, for professional appearance men and women should consider a suit (Bowman, 2007). It should be a dark color like black, navy blue, or charcoal (Bowman, 2007). Chaney and Martin (2007) express this same idea by stating “people who wear darker colors convey power and authority” (p. 17). They noted that “Research has found that people who wear suits, whether male or female, are perceived as more professional than those who wear any other type of attire” (Chaney & Martin, 2007, p. 18).
They also state, “Quality is an additional aspect of business dress” (p. 18) and “Investing in a few pieces of quality clothing is preferable to having a large wardrobe of clothing of lesser quality” (Chaney & Martin, 2007, p. 18). Men should consider white or light blue shirts or one with power stripes (Bowman, 2007) and “the shirt sleeves should be long enough so that about a half inch extends below the jacket sleeve” (Chaney & Martin, 2007, p. 19).
However, men should avoid wearing short-sleeve dress shirts with suits (Chaney & Martin, 2007). Another suggestion is to make sure the collar fits snuggly around the neck and making sure to avoid collars that are too big (Bowman, 2007). For women, “Your shirt or blouse should not be too bulky or formfitting” (Bowman, 2007, p. 171). Women should be conscious of clothing that may reveal too much body (Casperson, 1999). Bowman (2007) reiterates this feeling by stating, “The neck should not reveal cleavage” (p. 171). Proper business dress is an important part of maintaining a good professional appearance as attire speaks volumes about an individual.
Personal grooming can send messages to an audience about an individual and is an important part of a person’s professional appearance. One could assume that people who take pride in their appearance take pride in their work. It is possible that people that pay close attention to the details of how they look would pay the same close attention to how their work looks. Grooming is defined as regular care designed to make a person neat and attractive (Merriam-Webster). An important part of grooming is personal hygiene. According to Pigford (2001) “Hygiene is the practice of caring for the body in ways that maintain good health” (p. 94). He elaborates on this by stating “Hygiene includes care of your hair, skin, teeth, and body—all of which are important aspects of your appearance” (Pigford, 2001, p. 94). Good grooming and personal hygiene are not only important because of the message they send others, but good grooming and hygiene generally help people to feel and exhort their best. People tend to exude confidence when they feel good, which can help them perform to the best of their ability (Casperson, 1999).
When it comes to personal appearance, one of the first things people notice is a person’s hair (Pigford, 2001). Some guidelines in regards to personal grooming is to keep hair looking, feeling, and smelling clean. Pigford (2001) suggests “The best thing you can do for your hair—and the most important advice you can get—is to wash your hair with a mild shampoo every day, or as often as necessary” (p. 95). However, Pigford (2001) suggests that “For both men and women, the most important rule for business hairstyles is neatness. No matter what style you choose, you need a good haircut to keep your hair looking neat” (p. 104). Just as business dress is influenced by gender, industry, culture, and work environment, so too are guidelines regarding acceptable hairstyling and facial hair. It is important to know and understand the corporate policy where one works regarding acceptable hair styles as well as facial hair for men (Casperson, 1999). In regards to women, makeup is a consideration in grooming and appearance.
Chaney and Martin (2007) believe that “women should keep makeup to a minimum” (p. 19). Bowman (1999) also agrees that makeup should be kept to a minimum and goes so far as stating “You do not want to go into a business setting streaked with war paint” (p. 157). According to Pigford (2001) “The professional businesswoman’s office makeup should enhance her appearance; it should not be distracting. Wearing the right makeup can give you a cool, professional look; wearing too much makeup or the wrong makeup will have exactly the opposite effect” (p. 101-102). Fragrances should also be worn sparingly. If you must wear a fragrance for work, then only the lightest scents would be acceptable (Bowman, 2007). According to Pigford (2001) “The reason is that most people react strongly to all smells—they either love them or hate them” (p. 106). If a fragrance is to be worn, it is recommended that the scent be light, not overpowering, and it should not conflict with other aromas (Bowman, 2007).
People often forget about the appearance of their hands and nails. Hands are seen “dozens of times each day—when you shake hands, when you gesture, and when you point something out, for example” (Pigford, 2001, p. 104). Given this, nails should be kept neatly trimmed and clean. For women, unusual and bright colors should be avoided, while a French manicure is highly acceptable (Chaney & Martin). Grooming habits can serve as a distraction if not given the proper attention.
This can certainly be true in the case of poor hygiene. Steve Jobs, founder and former CEO of Apple, provides a good example of this. In his early career, Steve Jobs was said to be a distraction to some of his coworkers because of his unconventional hygiene habits. He reportedly attempted to live a very natural lifestyle and ate a vegan diet. It was said that he thought that because of his very natural diet, he did not believe that he needed to use deodorant. His coworkers disagreed. He was a bright and productive employee but his unusual hygiene caused harm to his relationships with coworkers and his work environment. He was eventually moved to third shift so that he could continue to work without offending others in the workplace (J. Fager, personal communication, July 15, 2012).
Body language is another component of a person’s professional appearance. Body language includes posture, which can be open or closed, tall or slouched. How a person carries his or herself can tell others if they are open and confident or closed and insecure. Body language also takes into account expressions and eye contact. Messages being sent out by our body are referred to as non-verbal communication (Croucher, 2010). Bowden (2010) reiterates this feeling that “The nonverbal elements have been found to be particularly important for communicating the information that forms a receiver’s understanding of the feelings, attitude, or intent behind a communication” (p. 7).
It has been estimated that body language communication accounts for 55 percent, tone of voice 38 percent, and that verbal communication only accounts for 7 percent of that understanding (Bowden, 2010). In other words, 93 percent of a person’s feelings, attitude, and intent are received through nonverbal communication, not through verbal communication (Bowden, 2010). In addition, if a person says one thing but their nonverbal communication is completely opposite, people tend to believe the nonverbal communication over the verbal communication (Croucher, 2010). It is important to be aware of nonverbal communication and what you are communicating to others around you (Casperson, 1999). There are some basic guidelines to follow to make sure what is being conveyed through body language is the same as the message that is being spoken.
First, it is important to be mindful of posture. Posture can send a message of confidence and self-assuredness or communicate nervousness and low self-esteem (Chaney & Martin). An individual should “walk with grace and ease” (Casperson, 1999, p. 23). Also, one must be aware of their posture when standing as well as when sitting. A person should demonstrate an open and relaxed posture (Chaney & Martin). One should avoid slouching when either standing or sitting can send a message that you are lazy, bored, or lacking self-confidence (Croucher, 2010). Also, be aware of facial expressions as they speak volumes about how you feel about yourself, your situation, and your thoughts of those you are around (Bowden, 2010).
For example, a furrowed brow can communicate anger or frustration even though a person may simply be in deep thought (Bowden, 2010). It is also important to pay attention to eye contact as it is another form of nonverbal communication. Looking away from someone that is speaking can indicate that a person is uninterested in what is being said. Glancing away from someone while you are answering a question can convey dishonesty. Also, if a person does not look someone in the eye while speaking to them, it can convey that the speaker is insecure or not telling the truth (Langford, 2005).
Professional appearance can be impacted by a person’s attitude. One way attitude can be communicated is through tone of voice. The tone can either serve to enhance or disrupt one’s message. According to Langford (2005) “The elements of pitch, pace, and power (volume, authority, passion) can project such qualities as timidity, hostility, confidence, suspicion, and collaboration” (p. 26). Almost everyone has been taught or heard that “it’s not what you say but how you say it”. This can be plainly visible if one is not aware of the tone of their voice. Think of a single word like “yes”, “no”, or “what”. A person can say any one of these words in such a way that it sends a different message. For example, each word can be said with either a confident, threatening, peaceful, or frustrated tone.
A single word with slight variations in tone can communicate a variety of messages. Given that nonverbal communication tends to outweigh verbal communication, it could be expected that one’s actions would outweigh one’s words (Langford, 2005). Attitude is not only reflected in tone of voice but also by the behavior displayed towards others (Casperson, 1999). In the business environment, having and presenting a good attitude is important. Pigford (2001) summed this up by stating “Having a good attitude means a willingness to work hard, to be ambitious, to be pleasant to others, as well as trying to be courteous and respectful to those with whom you work.” (p. 12). A good practice is to treat others with the same respect you would want shown to you (Casperson, 1999). Having a good attitude shows people the consideration you have for them as well as for yourself (Casperson, 1999).
Business dress, personal grooming, body language, and attitude are all important components of professional appearance. Each of these typically draws attention from an audience, which either serves to draw attention to a person’s intended message or take away from it. Business dress, personal grooming, body language, and attitude require an individual’s attention to project the right message in order to ensure that the former is the case.
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