Looking the Part

Appearances matter. How you look and present yourself has an impact on what people think about you – this is particularly the case in the workplace. It can also affects how you see yourself. For example, if you are smartly dressed, you will possibly feel more confident going into a meeting than you would if you were dressed very casually.

Paying attention to your appearance and the image you project can help you build confidence. It is a basic consideration, but it could make a big difference.

For example, if you were going for a job interview or to an important meeting, you would most likely choose to ‘err on the side of caution’ and dress smartly (i.e. if you look the part, you might get the part). You would be unlikely to go dressed in a tracksuit, for example.

Appearances, of course, are more than just what we wear. How we behave, how we interact with others (both clients and colleagues) and our general attitude and conduct all plays a massive role in how we are perceived in the workplace. How we present ourselves can make all the difference when trying to make a positive impression.

It can be unfortunate, but we all make snap judgements when we meet people. Appearance is particularly influential – when we look at people we will make assumptions about them.

These judgements are, of course, very superficial and are based on unconscious bias and stereotypes. Nevertheless, due to these first impressions we form an opinion about someone within minutes or even seconds of meeting them.

When you get to know someone better, of course, your opinions might change quite dramatically. Have you ever met someone and, based on first impressions, formed a negative perception of them, only to get to know them better and realise that you like them?

Appearances therefore are just a facade but the ability to give a positive first impression is a beneficial one. If you can win people over straight away, you will find it easier to deal with them and build rapport.

Businesses – even small businesses – need to recognise the importance of good first impressions. The business may be new, or struggling, but if its staff or representatives are well-dressed and well-trained in dealing with customers, it can give a greater sense of confidence in the business. Customer service staff, for example, should always be well-presented. Imagine going to a café or restaurant and encountering staff in dirty, scruffy clothing – it wouldn’t inspire confidence in the business.

Of course, offices often have dress codes. If so, these should be adhered to.

Dress codes exist for a number of reasons. Uniforms, for example, may be required if an organisation has a corporate brand it wants to promote. Dress codes might also be enforced for health and safety reasons. For instance, jewellery and certain clothing might not be suitable in a factory where machinery is in use.

Employers should remember, however, that dress codes must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. These are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • religion or belief
  • sex, or;
  • sexual orientation.

This means that, for example, dress codes should apply to men and women equally; they should not be stricter for one gender over the other. Religious considerations should also be considered and adjustments made, where practicable.

Appearances and first impressions can play a big role in the workplace. Of course, no one should be made to feel uncomfortable or judged on appearances, but thinking about how you present yourself to others may be useful in understanding how they perceive you – and why.

Again, this is more than just how you dress. It is about how you treat others and behave towards them. Are you positive and helpful – or negative and unapproachable? Your attitude will make a big difference when building relationships in the workplace, both with colleagues and customers.

About the author

Lisa joined RWA in 2014 as an e-Learning Assistant, designing training material for the Aviva Development Zone e-learning platform.

Her role as Head of Content and Communications involves the editorship of RWA Insight. It also includes reviewing e-learning content as well as providing proofreading, copywriting and standards support across the business.

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