What They Think About You
Before you set your path there are a couple of things you must know if you don’t know already. You have to know what you’re going up against out there. You’re in constant competition with coworkers and most importantly yourself. It’s great to smile and have rapport with friends and coworkers. I’m not saying that you can’t have friends or be friendly. All I’m asking is that you become vigilant. If the axe ever comes down and your company needs to lay off employees you need to be prepared and stand out in the minds of your superiors.
Although people around you pretend to be politically correct, they still judge you on the little bit of information they absorb from your brief encounters. Have you ever driven down the street in your city or town and spotted a homeless person? How did you know that person was homeless? Were their legs sticking out of the cardboard box give them away? Did your parents teach you how a homeless person looked or did you take the little information you gathered driving thirty-five miles per hour and figure it out for yourself? This does not make you a bad person for prematurely judging someone, it is just how human beings make sense of what’s around them. That’s just the way it is. That’s why first impressions are so important. First impressions stick with people like traumatizing events. Always keep that in mind.
You must prepare yourself and your family for this type of scrutiny. I know some people are free spirits and love tattoos, fraternity brands and piercings. There has to be a point where you ask yourself: “Can I get the job that I want with this tattoo showing?” Employers may look at how well you work with their clients and customers, but they also look at the big picture. For example, will your looks clash with the ideals and morals of their primary customer base? If so, you’re out of luck and out of a job.
It is also hard to get into the military now with tattoos. If you’re thinking about armed forces you will more than likely have to receive a wavier on the grounds that your tattoos aren’t visible when dressed for duty.
If you have tattoos, keep them hidden. If you do not have them yet, but plan on getting them, try having them placed above your knees and/or above your biceps. That way you can wear polo shirts and khaki shorts when you are required. This is especially important for work in an office, country club, restaurant, or retail environment.
When I was a freshman in college I worked for my family’s valet parking company. We had a contract with one of the golf courses outside of Chicago. I was managing my post in front of the building, when I heard a noise. This was followed by loud voices, and soon after an angry chef crashed out of the front door and walked to his car. He had just lost his job because the tattoo he received in prison of a swastika that was visible on his forearm. Although though his prison survival days were long gone, he worked at a mostly Jewish country club and once he rolled his sleeves up to get to work they threw his ignorant ass out.
You have to stop thinking that people should change just because you were raised a certain way. You can’t change any body that does not want be changed. Some people are set in their ways. Know that, remember that, and prepare yourself and family. If you’re in a canoe and you’re rowing downstream and see rocks up ahead, do you run into the rocks? No, of course not. Do you get out of the boat and yell and swear at the rocks for being in your path? Guess again. Do you maneuver the canoe around the rocks and stay focused on the river ahead?
Yes. This is the way you have to look at the environment in which you are working in. Life is like a white water rafting adventure. There are going to be bumps and rocks, and you’re going to get wet sometimes. Thus, be prepared so your trip can be an exciting one. Now imagine a team of people arriving at the side of the river with only a raft. They have no life vests, no paddles, no helmets. They would never make it down the river.
Decide now how you want to be perceived. Don’t fight it. I’m not asking you to sell out or part your hair like Carlton Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but to simply prepare yourself for the environment in which you want to excel. This means dress the part, act the part, and control the way people think of you. DON’T FIGHT IT.
This methodology applies to almost every possible situation you. For instance, if you’re in the hood, I would expect you to think before you act. Don’t put on any flashy attire that will attract attention. Is it that important to show the local people you’re better than them? Not thinking in this situation can get you robbed or worse, shot.
Again, appearance is everything. If you have messed up teeth you need to do everything you can to get them fixed. Talk to your Human Resources department and ask them about your dental plan, or go online and see what’s provided for those who don’t have dental insurance. I know it doesn’t seem right that people get judged on their teeth or by the way they are dressed but that’s just how it is.
I have conducted at least four personal experiments centered around appearance where I currently work. On my day off I dressed in comfortable baggy blue jeans, a brown Old Navy hooded sweat shirt and a blue and white Yankees hat. My own employees didn’t know me. I used this method to see if my employees would do their jobs without me around. I was able to sit in the café area for hours before someone recognized me. This was because they were so used to me being dressed professionally every day. I made it through about Ten magazines before one of my employees looked at me and said, “Rashad?”.
In addition, while dressed up, I can easily start a conversation with anyone I encounter. I can find out a person’s likes and dislikes. I can find out about the book a person is reading or how they feel about the latest sports news. This may be true while suited and booted, but not while dressed like Jay-z (not the Jay-Z on the cover of Forbes with Warren Buffet).
Should I waste any time getting angry because people treated me differently while dressed down? No, of course not. I knew better and I knew what to expect. I just wanted to see my theories in practice before I worked on changing how I presented myself in public, especially if I’m trying to market myself for sales or promotion.
Hygiene: If you have hygiene issues such as bad breath or body odor you’re going to have to accept that you’re less than fresh sometimes and make a change. If you struggle with body odor all the time, you might want to see a doctor and find out if you have a chemical imbalance and what may be causing it. You will feel a million times better if you knew this area was well covered.
If you have problems with body odor, do not lie to yourself by assuming others won’t notice it. This is not true. My grandmother used to say, “If you smell yourself, three other people already smelled you.” If this issue is not addressed, people will judge you. Aside from serious health reasons, an adult has no excuse to be funky.
When you’re in public people are not going to care why you stink, but they will wonder why you don’t smell yourself and fix it. This will stick with them for years and cause you not to be able to be in close quarters with your coworkers or supervisors, thus alienating you from opportunity.
I happen to be blessed with good body chemistry, but there was a time when my older brother who raised me pulled me aside and explained the importance of good hygiene. He then introduced me to the strongest none prescription deodorant on the market called Mitchum. This stuff works like magic. It’s so effective your can skip a day and it will still work great. This stuff is perfect for long flights, camping and/or hiking trips. Needless to say, I have not been smelly for over fifteen years.
Not shaving: Another issue that turns people off. Men, unless you’re out of the workforce, or a rapper like Rick Ross, a clean cut face can never be wrong. If you have shaving bumps and/or acne, please see a dermatologist if you haven’t already. Skin problems can lead to pretty low self-esteem. I used to have horrible acne, with eighty or more pimples on my face at once. It was one of the worst experiences of my life and it didn’t disappear until I was twenty-one years old. So trust me, I know.
Hair cuts: I personally keep a bald head. It’s cheap and it looks good on me. But no matter the style, getting a hair cut every week is not a bad idea. If you can’t afford a hair cut every week, change to a style that can be maintained for a long period of time (hence my bald head). Ladies, try letting your hair grow out or, if you can afford it, maintain a short cut. One of my past bosses gets her hair cut at the same barber as me and still maintains a feminine look in addition to her well tailored cut business attire. I’m not saying go all Grace Jones though. Just keep it simple and clean. If you prefer longer hair, try to tie your hair up at night before you go to bed. Go out and purchase a silk scarf or silk wrap form Sally’s beauty supply or Wal-Mart. This will help you maintain a consistent look throughout the week. All you have to do is wrap it and tie it. When you wake up in the morning your hair will be easier to manage.
How you think: Stop the “well it should be like this” or “it should be like that”. In other words, open your mind. When you get to the top, you may be able to change what people do, but until then realize what you’re dealing with and navigate through it. Some people waste years of their life fighting an uphill battle, to only see their less intelligent or less qualified coworker surpass them. This is because they were closer to their boss, more visible or well dressed and prepared for their work environment. Don’t be mad at these people; JUST STEP YOUR GAME UP. “Don’t hate the player hate the game”!
Move On: Prepare yourself. If nothing changes leave and try something else. Sometimes you have to leave, reinvent yourself, learn new skills and then come back if you want to get any respect. I was told this by one of my former employers after getting turned down for a raise twice. I can’t say this didn’t trouble me but I learned that day that I hadn’t been playing the game of life correctly and some key changes were needed.
All those years of not being a yes man, fighting for advancements and needed departmental changes only hurt me. I did not look at my environment. I refused to look at what I was up against. I never bothered to ask myself what I should’ve been doing to survive in that environment. After taking a hard look at myself, I noticed that I was swimming against the current. Once I figured this out, things started to change for me. I didn’t get the raise I wanted but I did get a raise. Also, the amount of respect I received increased over time. People asked what was different about me. They couldn’t seem to put their finger on it.
In actuality, all I did was speak when spoken to and change my appearance. I know it sounds shallow, but it worked. This troubled me for a while. I asked myself how such minute changes could so drastically alter the way so many people perceived me. After all, I’m the same person I have always been, right? I realized those minute changes were gigantic changes. Again, people profile you by what they see. This is how the game is played. You need to make sure what they see is the right fit for the work environment.
My older brother, James Johnson, once told me, “You want people to smile every time they see you coming.” That is your goal. No one likes a Debbie Downer. If you want to complain, complain to your higher power in your car or bus before you get to work. No one else wants to hear it. Always stay positive. Make someone laugh from time to time. People hate hanging around or working with negative people.
You should never take sides or choose a clique at work or anywhere else. The whole purpose of a clique is to isolate you from others. This will only hurt your networking advancement at your job. Always remember, cliques are the devil (T.D. Jakes).