by Brian McKay



We all give consideration to how we look, but does it have more than a purely aesthetic impression, on other people and professionals? While the importance of your business image is a very common subject, what does your specific image relate to other people within your business, but also in the general professional sphere, and how can we improve on this? Let's endeavor to answer the question.

Professionalism (and All Of Its Subcategories)

Navigating the diverse platform of business, especially in the modern workplace, it seems that there's not just one the stereotypical image to uphold, (the standard shirt, tie and suit combo) but as far as a professional image is concerned, the physical appearance is purely a cosmetic one. While we can apply some modicum of psychology on the impact of a professional image, namely the research undertaken by Milgram, where he conducted an experiment focusing on obedience, does this provide the solution? In this respect, the experiment highlighted what someone wearing a laboratory coat in comparison to everyday clothes did as far as obedience is concerned to an authority figure. Once the experimenter role was taken over by an ordinary person in everyday clothes, the obedience level dropped dramatically, from 65% to 20%. Professionalism is, almost automatically, equated with obedience. You see a person wearing a power suit, and you make the assumption that they are “important”. This is incredibly beneficial not just in terms of the image we present, but if we are looking to evaluate our own perception of ourselves, more of which later.

But as the idea of professionalism immediately equates with hardworking and studious individuals, when we are looking to have a wide-reaching impact on our employees or clients, the image is purely a cosmetic fix. And it, many ways, is the bare minimum of what we should put out there. But now, with the idea of smart casual, business casual, and all of the other subcategories of dress code, there is a great disparity between older and younger generations of what constitutes a professional image. Sometimes, we are in businesses where we need a specific uniform, or talisman to highlight who are the professionals. In the medical industry, the police force, and so on, the whole idea of a professional dressed exactly as that is about invoking that immediate response of obedience, which doesn’t just make the distinction easier for the other professionals, it helps to maintain a sense of order when there may very well be chaos! With regards to medical scrubs and the like, suppliers like Uniforms and Scrubs has them in abundance, and when you are looking at setting up a business, giving thought to the dress code is essential. In fact, this may not have even crossed your mind. But it depends on many factors, not least the industry you are in.

The Perception Of A Professional Image

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but so is professionalism. For many of us, the very idea of how we present ourselves is integral, not just to how we look, but how we are winning at life. In business, if we seem to be dressed shabbily, is this going to win us more clients? It's very unlikely. In a cultural context, the perception of a professional image actually boils down to the whole “I know it when I see it debate.” This is incredibly interesting, especially when we make decisions as to who we would align with. While the proof is in the pudding, we know that out of two people, one dressed impeccably and the other dressed shabbily, we’d go for the more impeccable one. And the answer is very simple as to why, because they look like they take care of themselves more, they have pride in themselves; and it's all these little things that feed into our perceptions of others in a professional sense. And yes, there are exceptions to the rule, dressing gown wearer Mark Zuckerberg being a very notable example!

But when we are looking to make a massive impact, it's surprising how much one little detail can communicate so much. When you are working at making your business as professional as humanly possible, it still boils down, percentage-wise, to how you look. Depending on where you look, between 50% and 70% of all communication is done by how you look. As you work to build up a solid and reliable business, it's time to give considerable thought to the dress code, not just in terms of how you are perceived from the outside, but the impact of dress code on productivity. Depending on where you look, there are various studies that say that a casual dress improves productivity infinitely when some studies highlight the complete opposite. It's each unto their own with this approach because some people prefer to feel relaxed so they can work effectively, whereas others need that rigidity and professionalism so they can fulfill the role they have to play during working hours. It's not just the perception that others have of us, but it's the perception we have of ourselves.

Creating Your Own Image

As we work to create a solidified, professional image, we not only have to work on our exterior image, but our interior image also. Numerous people find themselves in over their heads in the business world. As has been evidenced by the vast amount of entrepreneurs coming out of the woodwork over the last few years, we are all looking at making an impact in the world of business, no matter how limited our experience. Once we find ourselves face to face with a business shark that gobbles up startups for breakfast, we can realize, very quickly, that we have to put a lot of work into developing our own comprehensive professional image that, not only others believe, but we believe also. This can be one of the biggest challenges we face. It can be quite a battle to develop this image. This is why we have to learn how to make it a part of our personality. Now, this isn't to say that you'll have to be some sort of hardass, but it's about conveying that confidence and doing so naturally. It can boil down to a few simple principles and practices.

Firstly, “dressing for the job you want, not the job you have” is one of those age-old approaches that works. Why? Because it's down to the fact that our brain is physically unable to tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined. The techniques of positive self-talk and visualization are things done by many athletes and business people take advantage of this idea, and it's not difficult to see why! Once you realize that your brain is unable to know what is real and what is imagined, you can begin to reprogram your mind. This is why cognitive behavioral therapy works so effectively because you are unlearning the bad habits you have and are replacing them with new ones. If you're someone who is negative, not just in terms of your outlook, but your choice of words, addressing this, and starting to reprogram the mind accordingly is what will turn you into a better thinker. But we're talking about professional imagery here, and this is where the image you present outwards can greatly impact your internal makeup. Physically speaking, if you put on a power suit, it forces your shoulders up and back, and shoes that make you stand up straight, these tropes of professional imagery are things that you can carry with you throughout your entire career. And once you physically alter your body to embody these characteristics, it's surprising how you begin to think and feel differently. It's much like playing a character, and after a while, this character becomes a part of you. You then find that it's not just how you look, but this professionalism in image bleeds into your personality.

It's not just about putting on the right suit, it's about what this suit represents, inwardly and outwardly. Professionalism nowadays, is a more subjective term, but in an industry where what you look like says a lot about you, carefully crafting that image doesn't just communicate the type of person that you are, but the type of people you want to work with. When we're all starting out on a long and difficult business journey, from inception to actualization, the image we provide has to be so carefully constructed, then we could very well lose custom if we don't understand exactly what we are. This is why we've got to begin with us. This is, after all, the one thing we can control completely at the very beginning. Once we present the image we want, we can begin to filter this idea of what we perceive to be professional down through the ranks. Take a good look in the mirror, what you see in front of you can be tweaked and attributes highlighted so that you can go far, much further than you realize!