Tales from the Front Lines – How Your Appearance Affects Your Upward Influence Success

As I talk to more readers of The Underdog Edge, it’s fun to hear their stories and applications of Underdog Edge influence moments—-real-world experiences that illustrate the seven extreme influence strategies and over 50 tactics for upward influence success.  I’ll be sharing them in this blog as they occur.

As I wrote in Underdog Edge, the top dogs whose minds were changed by someone “down” the food chain made a common observation—that one’s appearance matters, and that it represents a mental shortcut to help them decide whether to give access and time to that person, especially if they are younger and don’t have a long track record of success.

As I remind my audiences, if you have the track record and credibility, you can get away with more in terms of “letting your freak flag fly” with your appearance. But until you approach the accomplishments of someone like trial attorney Jerry Spence (fringed buckskin jackets) the late Steve Jobs (Levi’s and black turtleneck), or Mark Zuckerberg (hoodie and t-shirt) you need to be considerate of your influence prospect.  In fact, a unique piece of apparel or accessory can make you more memorable to others, but in general, you have to have the record of achievement first when influencing up the food chain.

That is supported by research which shows that everyone, and especially those up the hierarchy from you, makes very quick assumptions about your warmth, competence, and intelligence in the first few seconds of meeting you.  That’s especially important when you’re influencing up the food chain because people up there deal with lots of people every day. Social scientists reveal that people who frequently interact with others are very accurate judges of character and competence; it’s a skill that is developed over time.

The following tales from the front lines are focused on women’s attire and appearance, because that’s where the real stories are from so far.  . . . . . I welcome any tales from the male gender as well, so don’t shot the messenger, I’m just the reporter.

Having a Beer vs. Having a Substantial Conversation

A conversation with a client, a Vice President at one of the fastest-growing companies in the country, recently reminded me of a blunder made by Senate staffers when my client visited Capitol to meet with lawmakers and their staff. I asked him how the meeting went, and he said, “Well, I couldn’t believe the attire of some of the female Senate staffers. It seemed that they were dressed more for a Friday night out than a business meeting.  My initial thought was, gee, they’d be great to have a beer with, but not to discuss serious issues. And, they were young, which is no big deal, but it seems that the younger you are, the more you would want to show your smarts vs. other features.  Frankly, we all felt that the staffers were a side show that detracted from the serious business being discussed.”

Remember, as I write in Underdog Edge, style is your visual vocabulary.  It shows what you think not just about yourself, but what you think about those you are with.

Selling Advice vs. Selling a Ferrari

A mentor of mine had a similar experience with a young woman at a business luncheon. I asked him whether I should hire their firm for a particular service. He happened to have just sat with a principal of the firm at a business lunch. He advised me:  “Well, first, she has atrocious table manners.  She wasn’t using the right utensils. Further, she was dressed very inappropriately.  I’d probably use her to help sell my Ferrari, but not to advise me on business issues.”

Know it, stow it, show it and sow it ——- you are judged with great alacrity. What are you communicating with your visual vocabulary?