I was reading this book a few weeks ago. It was an old, out of print book that I picked up in some old bookshop, by an author that wrote another, more popular book that I’d read. So naturally, I picked it up, since it was only a quarter. The first book “Dress For Success” by John Molloy was a bestseller, and although written back during the seventies had all kinds of useful advice for what kinds of clothes to wear in what kinds of situations.
The interesting thing about Dress For Success was that it wasn’t written as an opinion piece, it wasn’t just another collection of self-proclaimed fashion guru’s advice based on his own personal tastes and experience. The materials in the book were the results of scientific research. The author owned some kind of social research organization, and they would frequently conduct “experiments” by sending people out in public, and have them perform certain tasks. And the only variable they would vary was the clothes that the people wore.
Of course, many of the results were the results of surveys, e.g. asking people’s opinions after “experimenters” would pass by wearing certain clothes. One example is that they had a bunch of guys go out wearing black raincoats. Then they would follow them, and ask people what they thought of them. They would say they were doing an experiment, and have them fill out a questionnaire. Invariably, the people that were wearing beige raincoats were judged to be more professional, and more upper class than those wearing black raincoats.
Another interesting experiment was they sent several men out in public, and had them eat in a restaurant. After they’d finished eating, they’d explain to the waiter/waitress that they’d forgotten their wallet, that contained their ID’s, but they had their checkbook. (This was before debit cards were invented, and many people still paid by personal check). About 80% of the guys swearing button down shirts with ties had their checks accepted, while almost none of the guys without ties had their checks accepted.
The entire book was filled with useful information on how to dress if you are interested in how others perceive you.
But this other book, called “Live for Success,” was more about general lifestyle habits rather than what kinds of clothes you should wear.
For example, they had several guys that were wearing clothes and had bodies and faces as close together as they could get. The randomized them, and then had them walk into social environments, like bars or clubs, for a long enough period of time so that people would remember them when asked a few minutes later.
Half of the group walked with their shoulders slumped forward, and their head hanging down. The other group walked with erect posture, shoulders rolled back, and head straight up. Keep in mind that everything else between each group was as consistent as they could make it. Clothing, hairstyle, facial makeup, facial hair, etc. What the found, although not really surprising, was interesting nonetheless. The group with erect posture was rated an 8 out of 10, on average, while the guys with poor posture were rated at a 6.5 out of ten. The obvious take away from this is that simply by walking with correct posture, holding your shoulders back, and your head up will increase your “attractiveness” score by a full point and a half out of ten.
What I found to be the most interesting chapter was on congruence. They did a case study on a guy that, on paper, should have been a fairly likeable guy. Decent job, decent family, good income, decent education. But when they interviewed his friends and coworkers, they all described him in completely distasteful terms. The company that employed him had consulted with Malloy’s company (the author of the book) to try and determine what it was about this guy that turned people off so much. Many times people just couldn’t stand to even be in the same room him. The guy didn’t swear, didn’t have excessive body odor, didn’t leer at females inappropriately, nothing obvious that you would think of when you would hear somebody described with such obvious distaste. Nevertheless, whenever his coworkers would see this poor guy coming, they would make a beeline in the other direction.
After a few weeks of study, Malloy and his associates found out what it was. The guy was completely incongruent. His facial expression was incongruent with his message, his body language was incongruent with his speech, and even when he was agreeing verbally with what somebody was saying, his body language and facial expression was screaming the complete opposite. His body language, facial expressions and gestures were always completely opposite of his speech and his language.
Now this may have had some deep psychological reasons based on childhood or something, but Malloy and his associates weren’t there to fix that. All they were hired to do was to find out what it was about his guy that turned people off so much. Once they put their finger on it, they gave him some exercises and pointers to get his non-verbal communication more in line with his verbal communication. They had him do practice exercises in the mirror, hold his head and body still while he was talking, and other things that slowly brought his body language in line with what his verbal message was.
The interesting thing was that although everybody knew that didn’t want to be in the same room as this guy, nobody could quite put their finger on why. And it took a professional social research firm a few weeks to figure it out as well. After several week of practice, most people accepted him as “normal” and didn’t despise him as much. And he found it much easier to make friends, and be productive in his work when it involved interacting with others outside the company.
The clear take away from this is to always make sure you’re body language is in congruence with your verbal message. Any guy who has come home late at night, and tried to lie to his wife or girlfriend, knows how quickly significant others can pick up on incongruent communication, especially females. Females seem to be much better at picking up incongruencies in communication than males.
If you’re in sales, being incongruent can kill a sale before it even starts. Even if you believe in the product you are selling, your body language can shoot you in the foot. I used to work with this guy that would shake his head back and forth (the universal sign for “no”) whenever he talked about his product. This would turn of clients, as it appeared this guy had a distaste for his own product.
But the truth was, when he was speaking of his product, his thought was “nobody can do it better than us” which led to his head shaking. This was often misinterpreted by potential clients as a disbelief in his product’s quality. So even if you have a strong belief in something, you can project a conflicted message if you’re not careful.
The simple way around this is to simply get out of your head, focus on who you are speaking with, and focus on your message. Just like the guys in the bar, hold your head up, keep your back straight, and look them in the eye. You’ll have much more success this way.
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