Friday, 3 July 2009

Face the Facts… Image Matters

Here are the facts: recent research makes it clear that up to 93% of how we communicate is down to body language, facial expressions, voice, language, enthusiasm, energy, grooming and clothing. Only seven per cent is represented by our content. Ignoring this fact could make the difference between nailing it at a job interview and leaving disappointed. In addition, in almost any situation, be that business or personal, knowing that you’ve made the effort to address the 93% is a great confidence booster and self esteem generator. Furthermore, others always recognise and admire those who make an effort.

Having spent much of my working life in the world of fashion, image and style, I’m highly attuned to the pitfalls of ignoring the 93%. Think of yourself as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each particle making an important contribution to the whole. So when even a seemingly small piece of the puzzle is missing, the picture appears incomplete. That’s how we look when we ignore the 93%. The word ‘together’ is oft used when people remark on how someone looks, or how they come across or conversely, when they observe someone who looks ‘un-together’. In both cases the viewer is making a judgment, perhaps wrongly. However, if you ask yourself how you’d like to be described, I know which description you’d go for.

So using together as an outcome of getting the 93% right, how does one begin to develop a personal style or, as some describe it as a personal brand that’s both appropriate for them and that conveys something authentic? Of all the famous people I’ve met, some of whom I dressed, so to speak, those who embody the best of the 93% never followed fashion, although they acknowledged its existence. They did, however, convey a strong personal style. Keeping up to date with trends be they food, architecture or the arts seems to strike a positive chord; people who do this are often thought of as sophisticated. But people who pay too much attention to fashion and image are often seen as superficial and vacuous. Personally, I think those who summarily dismiss the fashionista as someone whose contribution is worthless do so because they are intimidated or perhaps even a little jealous.

When I was in the business, I never followed fashion, although I was highly aware of what was in, what was about to come in and that which was considered to be on the way out. This awareness was very helpful to me; it acted as a cultural barometer, something that kept my eye sharp and my mind alert. As far as the 93% is concerned, it’s worth considering what percentage of that might be responsible for grooming and clothing, my guess is that it’s about 50%. That leaves 43% for everything else.

As many of you know, we have 10 seconds to make a positive impression; it would be churlish to ignore the fact that our appearance is integral to the impression we make. However, when I come across people both in business and in social circles who don’t think that image is worth discussing or given any credence to, it is odd to me. Maybe it’s a British thing, you know, we just don’t talk about things like that, it’s far too personal. You bet it’s personal and that’s why it’s relevant. Think of it as a personal preference, something you believe in, perhaps even value. In a way, values are a good place to get the ball rolling. Ask yourself what your personal values are. Maybe integrity, optimism and equality are important to you. If so, do any of those characteristics manifest when people meet you? Ask yourself if your inner values match your outer personal style? In short, is there a connection between who you are on the inside and who you are on the outside? For most, the answer is usually ‘no’ or ‘I hope so.’

This quote from Oliver Sacks seems prescient – “Style, neurologically, is the deepest part of one’s being, and may be preserved almost to the last, even in dementia.” I agree with Mr. Sacks. In many ways that’s why I want to bring this subject to your attention. I firmly believe if we continue to develop our personal style our lives will improve measurably. Knowing that your inside matches your outside is both reassuring and empowering. That’s because it improves the most important relationship in our lives, the relationship we have with ourselves.


Steve said...

Hi Malcolm. A good read as always. I'm interested in your source for:
"Recent research makes it clear that 93% of how we communicate is down to body language, facial expressions, voice, language, enthusiasm, energy, grooming and clothing..."

Like many Trainers, I'm often using the '55% is body language' from research carried out by Mehrabian/The British Pschyological Society - wondered if you had a breakdown of the other elements mentioned above...?

Malcolm Levene said...

Hi Steve,

My source is a study at UCLA, which indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Another study indicated that the impact of a performance was determined 7 percent by the words used, 38 percent by voice quality, and 55 percent by the nonverbal communication.

When you mention 'the other elements above', here's a fuller list, which duplicates some of my personal findings: Shaking hands, posture, facial expressions, appearance, voice, tone, hairstyle, clothes, expression in your eyes, smile, how close you stand to others, how you listen, confidence, your breathing, the way you move, the way you stand, the way you touch people, color choice, silence.

Their are many who do not agree that 93% of the way we communicate is non-verbal. The point of this blog is to bring the whole area of non-verbal communicaton to people's attention.

hope I've been able to answer your very good questions, Steve.

Malcolm Levene said...

PS -

Steve, excuse spelling mistake at beginning of third para. I meant to write 'There' instead of 'Their.' Obviously I need to sharpen up my written communication skills!

Steve said...

Cheers Malcolm. You're right..some past delegates of mine have been sceptical of it even being 55%

Wake-up and spell the...armpits!