As part of my people skills development and my communication coaching, I’ve also been looking a lot at personal appearance and business etiquette. There seem to be volumes of etiquette rules about the way you should dress, accessorize and look, in the business environment and beyond it.
For example, the following are 3 such rules I’ve heard or read over the last few days:
- The only acceptable colors for men’s business suit are black, navy blue and gray;
- Grey is the best color for a man’s business suit, as it is neutral and conventional;
- Men should always wear a suit with a tie when meeting a client.
All I can say is: there are a lot of stuck up people out there! Some try to sell us the idea that respecting every minor etiquette rule about appearance is the way to project professionalism and make a great impression, while disregarding any of them is nothing short of a tragedy. I disagree, and I have the arguments to back it up.
You’re not fooling anyone. Sure, people still associate a well put together look with competence and professionalism. I’m not saying you should meet your clients wearing the free t-shirt from the last beer festival. But following every small etiquette rule about your appearance is taking it too far and can easily turn against you.
Why? Because people have started to get suspicious of persons with the 100% correct look. They realize it can be used as a manipulative trick, it can be planned to create a certain first impression which often has nothing to do with what’s beyond the surface.
Personally, every time I see a sales representative with the by the book sales person look (black suit, white shirt, red tie, big grim on his face), the first thought that comes into my mind is: “Watch out! He’s out to trick you out of your money!” The 100% correct look does not communicate authenticity and it’s simply not trustworthy. This leads me to me second point…
Expressiveness is the new wave in people skills. There is a new buzz word out there and it’s called “personal branding” (OK, actually 2 words). According to personal branding, in order to promote yourself and your services with great results, you need to identify what makes you unique and is relevant for the customer, then express it consistently in any context, through any communication channel. This includes your appearance.
Effective personal branding can only happen if you allow parts of your personality to shine and to reflect in your look. This means breaking some etiquette rules, dressing and accessorizing in a way that makes you stand out of the crowd, developing a personal style. And in the XXI century business world, this is becoming more and more important.
Stiff business etiquette about appearance is loosing ground. The fact of the matter is the way people dress in the business word has been changing quite a lot in the past decade. I’m no fashion expert but I think it’s gonna keep doing so for the next one. You can be a pioneer of this change and make an authentic look part of your people skills development, or… not.