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Once one of my students in communication class rebuked me for subtracting points in his speech. The cause? – Dress informally in a formal speech. His argument was, to say the least, interesting:
- Prof. What do my clothes have to do with my speech? If I have jeans, shorts or pants, it does not matter: what matters is what I say, my words, my message.
It is an easy feeling to share. Unfortunately it is incorrect. Image is not only an important part of communication: it is absolutely essential . The image itself is a shared code in a social environment that establishes parameters such as: threat, empathy, tribe, identity, trust, authority and respect.
The personal image is part of the ethos , which is the first filter of human communication. We listen to those we trust, and we trust those who communicate their social, technical, formal, proximal, or moral authority . In this, the way we show ourselves plays a primary role. In a world of robots, perhaps, the image would not matter; But we are in a world of humans, who not only absorb data, but create relationships. These are the basis of any type of communication.
Much has been written (and much more will be written) about personal image: the way we dress, the clothes we wear, the hairstyle, the fashion and the styles. Self-image is a science unto itself, but it’s only part of the equation. There is another important part of our image that we can sometimes lose sight of: the extended image.
The extended image is the group of external elements that also project your image, your character, your values and your style to other people. You must consider them as part of your integral image and put the same care in them that you put in your personal care and style.
Some elements that are part of your extended image are:
1. Your car
Have you ever had to take someone in your car, and you have to get rid of apologies and excuses – “excuse me, excuse me, graduate, let me save this … you see … I have children at home” – while you frantically try to disappear the leftover food from yesterday?
Your car is a very important part of your image, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. Although in some business environments, brand and luxury are requirements, the general rule is that it does not matter how expensive your car is – do not go into debt! – but even more, in what condition it is usually found. What is the use of wearing a Chanel dress or an Armani suit if you are going to show up on your date in a dirty, neglected or broken car?
Have the car you can. But always keep it flawless. It is a projection of your values, and people see it and associate it with your personality.
2. Your office / cubicle
Office styles change over time and follow different trends. A few years ago “luxury” offices consisted of heavy wooden furniture, classic paintings, and heavy ornaments. Modern offices take advantage of straight lines, neutral colors and a minimalist spirit.
However, keep in mind that your office is the visual metaphor for your brain . Whoever visits it affirms about you what they see in your space. They will not say “wow, what a messy office”, but “wow, what a messy person.” While there are professional environments where some “clutter” is required and expected (such as creative businesses, design businesses, etc.), don’t let your guard down. It is not the same “creative” as downright chaotic or dirty. Visualize the style of your space and you are sure that it conveys what you want to convey.
The traps in the offices are:
- Old and old-fashioned furniture.
- Excess of personal items and souvenirs.
- Things on the desktop that you are not using at the moment.
- Useless papers and things that are there “just in case …”.
- Poor quality pictures and ornaments.
- Trash, dirt and general clutter.
- Bad lighting.
This applies to your home, if you receive people, partners or clients from your business. Pause and ask yourself, does this space represent me as a person and as a professional? If not, don’t be afraid to make the necessary changes. If you need it, ask a professional for help.
3. Cell phone and pen
It is not uncommon to come across people who have apparently taken care of every aspect of their image … until they take out the phone with a crashed screen, scars from several years or an unprofessional case. And then the illusion is broken.
As with the car, your cell phone talks about who you are and how you are. It’s not about having the latest model, the luxury brand, or an overpriced cell phone – it’s about investing a bit in keeping it presentable.
The same goes for the pen: try to carry a pen or pen of good quality and in good condition, which you can use or borrow, if necessary. It is not necessary to spend thousands of pesos: there are excellent pens for the price of a venti coffee. The important thing is that you are aware that these accessories convey the style and care that you put in small things.
4. Your manners
Although the monkey dresses in silk … the saying goes, and he’s right. Bad manners are always red flags because they speak of internal values that are manifested unconsciously. Punctuality, deference, respect for all people. The way we greet, smile and interact with the people who serve us (such as waiters, cashiers, etc.), says more about who we are than the most luxurious of ties.
Are you projecting a negative image? Maybe they are not your shoes. Always maintain a friendly and service attitude, putting the other before you, spending time and calmly listening to what they may say to you. And please … don’t get distracted by your cell phone while others are talking!
5. Your social networks
Either by excess or by default, few professionals keep their social networks aligned with their professional profile. Everything you upload to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., is part of your extended image and directly affects the perception of your brand in the environment in which you develop.
“But networks are for friends and family,” someone will tell me. And I will answer you: precisely! Where do you think your first clients and partners come from in an entrepreneurial process? Your networks must convey two things: your personality and your personal and professional interests. If your thing is photography, science, politics or technology, your networks should be transparent and help to place you at the top-of-mind within your circles of influence.
Second, consider that everything you put there is public. People you don’t know will eventually have access to your photos and your comments. Try to behave in them as you would in a real public environment: with education, quality, character and intentionality. What you put in today will be there in two, five or ten years! Maintain awareness, prudence and perform a cleaning once a year.
6. Cards and contact
Until recently, business cards were ubiquitous. They were, on many occasions, the first thing we did when starting a business. With technology, they have been losing their presence, and many younger entrepreneurs prefer to exchange contacts on their cell phones.
Whether you choose to use paper or digital contact cards, design them in a way that conveys your image in a positive way! Yes on paper: well designed, well printed and up to date. Yes in digital: complete, updated and easy to transmit. Do not “pass your number”, but your card, with your complete information and in a professional way.
Don’t settle for what “everyone does.” Elevate your game and don’t miss a chance to make a good impression.
7. Your Zoom Fund
This is the absolute proof that, although fashions change, style remains. The personal image is not a series of rules, but the habit of making the projected image conscious, where nothing is unimportant.
The use of Zoom or similar platforms is ubiquitous these days, and we spend entire hours in classes and meetings every day of the pandemic. The world of the future will be much more connected in this sense, and virtual meetings are here to stay.
The fund you use in your meetings is the equivalent of your office. Is it a white wall, without any decorations? Is it a messy house, or too bright a window? The background of your meetings deserves attention: it must be orderly, balanced and prefer neutral colors. It should have no distractions. It must have good front lighting, and a camera at face level. Don’t use virtual funds! You prefer real funds with a professional sense.
Finally remember: personal image is not a costume or a mask. It is not a way of lying, but a way of being transparent. It is an optimized reflection of your style and your values , and it is one of your true allies in your personal and professional project.