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Dr. Shirley Says...

Effective Nonverbal Communication Cues:  Your Mode Of Dress Plays A Key Role

"For better or worse, realize that your outward appearance and demeanor influence how others will react to you."

You've hear the expression, "Clothes make the man (or woman)." That may be a slight exaggeration, since there are other determining factors, but in a large degree, it is true. What you wear in this world can make you or break you in many situations. Your clothes can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

What you wear can tell people a lot about you before you open your mouth to speak. In fact, many psychologists agree that close to 90 percent of what people remember about an encounter is related to nonverbal communication, a large portion of that being your overall appearance and demeanor.

When people first meet, they immediately begin making judgments about each other based on appearances alone. In most cases, people make a decision about a stranger in less time than it takes to blink an eye. Many times, if you squander that one moment, you will have to work very hard for the next one. This is especially true in the job interview setting.

Your dress conveys nonverbal clues about your personality, education, background, financial status and credibility. These clues can break down barriers and launch careers, or create barriers and hamper careers.

In his book, You Are What You Wear, William Thourlby states: "When you step into a room, decisions will be made solely upon your appearance; so to be successful, and to be sure decisions are favorable, keep in mind that you are what you wear, and dress accordingly." Thourlby goes on to say that, "Of course, clothes will not compensate for weak credentials, poor work records or bad habits, but a person who is dressed appropriately and is well groomed can open doors, where one who is inappropriately dressed and poorly groomed, will never be admitted."

Consider the impact that one's mode of dress has in our society. How does the person dress who manages your money matters? How do you imagine a policeman, a doctor, a nurse or a minister to look? In our society, certain "looks" have specific meanings. This theory may not seem fair, but it is a reality. For example, a person with a dingy, sloppy appearance, messy hair and rumpled clothes, no matter the reason, conveys the message, "I don't care." A woman who wears a tight dress with a low-cut neckline and high slits up each side may want to convey the message, "I'm attractive and sexy." However, her message may be decoded as, "I’m available. Your place or mine?"

On the other hand, a person who is well-groomed, dressed appropriately and in good taste can attend a business function or meeting and, in most cases, be readily accepted. Why? One of the key reasons is that the person's mode of dress conveys credibility, competence, and self-confidence.

Textures and lines of clothing also transmit silent messages. Soft textures in attire tend to invite human contact and closeness, while crisp textures may indicated that a person wants to be regarded as efficient. Lines of clothing, whether they are strict or flowing, can provide some indication of how rigid one's personality is.

At times, clothes are the only visible clues to our personalities. Even when other indicators are more apparent; clothing continues to make a statement. Our mode of dress may also reveal anger, aggressiveness, uncertainty or depression.

Your knowledge of nonverbal clothing clues will be useful not only in gaining some initial understanding of people, but also in interacting with them on a daily basis. Even small changes in the way an associate looks from day to day can signal other changes that may be important to you. Certainly, your skill at interpreting the visual code of dress can enhance your ability to relate to others. As you learn to interpret even more subtle messages from others, remember that you are transmitting equally revealing messages yourself. For better or worse, realize that your outward appearance and demeanor influence how others will react to you. By emphasizing the positive aspects of yourself through your dress and grooming, you can inspire confidence in your abilities and judgment, as well as lift your self-esteem. In essence, your clothing can be a self-fulfilling self-portrait



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