Get ready to tie one on

September 15, 2013By Views

by Dave Wendland, as seen in Healthcare Distributor magazine, Out of the Box column

February/March 2013

Let’s face it, times they have a-changed. As I look around our industry and compare it to years gone by, I can confidently say that we have become a laid back society.

It so happens one of my brothers-in-law operates a dry cleaning business. And he recently shared with me that the shape of his business has changed dramatically in the last decade. Gone are the days of heavy-starched shirts and weekly dress suit pressing. Thankfully, he had the foresight to alter his business plan and sewed up new accounts (puns intended), including some school uniforms and local sports teams.

This raises two questions for me: 1) how have we adopted to the new “standard” dress code? and 2) has it positively or negatively affected business outcomes? For those of us who have been in the industry 20+ years, you can certainly relate to the topic for this month’s issue and likely have an opinion regarding this cause-and-effect.

Not terribly long ago, ties for gentlemen and skirts or dresses for women were the norm. Fast forward to today’s workplace, and it is not uncommon to see blue jeans and tennis shoes. And, business conferences were once an opportunity to dress to the nines and elegantly conduct business conversations. In fact, when I first joined this industry, the annual wholesaler’s conference included formal meeting attire and black tie events.

Now, don’t for a moment think that being comfortable throughout the day isn’t a welcome change to my personal wardrobe and that decision-making regarding how I dress for my days in the office isn’t considerably easier. However, I also believe the age-old adage that says how a person dresses affects their attitude and self-confidence. Not to mention the effect it has on those we meet.

Those who know me well would no doubt agree that I’m not a psychologist. My gut instinct, however, suggests it would not be surprising to find that sloppy garb often accompanies sloppy work. Furthermore, casual and abbreviated conversations via the latest whiz-bang technology enabler (e.g., Twitter, text messaging, instant messaging, etc.) may also be the cause of less effective communication. That said, even an armchair psychologist like me would encourage counseling the culprits and remind them that we are sending messages about ourselves, our companies, and our capabilities though our various appearances.

In an ideal world, no one would really care. However, it’s important to remember that in the real world, impressions of a person are formed in the first 30 seconds to two minutes after we meet him or her. Okay, you may be thinking that your business acumen will more than make up for being a bit lax in the appearance category. Don’t count on it. Research suggests that not only are first impressions hard to change, if someone makes a negative first impression, that person is less likely to be sought again. So while initial impressions can be changed, human nature works against us having the opportunity to do so.

So, if you and your team really want to make a lasting impression with a prospective client, I would recommend you step up your wardrobe. I’d love to hear of your successes when you decided to “tie one on” before the meeting.

The moral of this story: casual dress and casual communication methods should never mean that business relationships are to be taken casually.

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