I was recently invited to do some corporate coaching with one of my favorite financial services clients. Sitting in front of me was a bank teller with pink hair who was having trouble understanding why her employer was being intolerant of her recent change in hair color. She was of the firm belief that her employer should respect her mind and skills and not be concerned about what color her hair was. She wanted her pink locks to be a part of her personal brand. She wanted to be memorable.
This employee went on to explain that a person is so much more than their appearance and I totally agree with her – to a point. It is when the individual’s personal sense of style and identity collides with the corporate definition of how an employee should present themselves that we have a problem.
In a recent interview I conducted with image and body language expert, Sara Canuso, President of A Suitable Solution, we talked about the importance of projecting a polished confident and professional image for everyone.
Sara shared that while it’s nice to think that we can meet and interact with another human being without judging them, it’s not possible. She indicated that, as humans, we are hard-wired to judge all people, places, and things that are unfamiliar to us. It’s that fight or flight instinct that we all have. We judge any new situation we find ourselves in. We just can’t help ourselves. It is in those first few moments of meeting someone that we decide if we like them or not-if they are safe to be around or not- if they are capable of helping us or not, etc. And in those first few seconds of meeting someone new, an impression is being made based on how that person looks because at that moment, that all we have to go on.
When you are coaching people in your department, on your team, or in your company, you may encounter then same situation I did when I was coaching the employee with the pink hair. To help them understand the importance of dovetailing their personal brand with your corporate brand might be one of the most important things you can do for them as a coach. Help them understand the importance of their attire, communication skills, body language, social media presence, and work space appearance. It truly speaks volumes of their sense of self-worth and dignity.
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Have you ever had to have an uncomfortable discussion with an employee about their image? How did you handle it?