Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I went to a conference-type meeting of about fifty people today, and during the introductions, I caught myself assessing my appearance in comparison to the rest of the attendees. And I realized that in situations like this I do it all the time. While ignoring the interminable Review of the Agenda, I think I figured out why- it helps me get a sense of what kind of power I can assert in a group that includes a number of people with more organizational or social networking power than myself. It also helps me decide how I want to present myself (which in professional situations can range from cold, driven, numbers-focused academic to young and amenable student) in order to get what my organization or I want from the meeting.

It's possible that the self-confidence I gain or lose from deciding whether or not I'm one of the pretty ones affects my perception/ wielding of my power, but (obviously) I don't think it's all in my head. I am listened to more closely and taken more seriously if I rank near the top, which is especially ironic given that I'm most likely to do so when I'm one of the youngest (and presumably less experienced) present. It's true whether I'm working with men or with women, academics or social service providers. Now that I think of it, it's also true in social settings when no one really knows each other.

I'm trying to decide whether it's more a factor of the fact that (a) I am assessed with more value if I'm deemed comparatively attractive or (b) if the interplay of the subconscious comparisons we make between each other affects each of our confidence enough to make a difference. It's not news that people rated as more attractive are more successful (they earn more money and are seen as more likeable), but I find it interesting that the population present in the room seems to matter so significantly, and that at some point I subconsciously started using it to my advantage.

Rumor has it that extremely attractive women have a hard time being taken seriously; thankfully, I don't have that problem.

(But lest you fear I have self-esteem issues, I tied for second today, based on my perception of typical American beauty standards. Perhaps I actually just have an inflated ego.)


shannon said...

Not entirely apropos to you post, but I've found to be "in charge" or a "decision maker" requires a couple things:

1. Take charge and make decisions
One might think this is a tautology and pointless to say, but it's not. I've had numerous people complain that they weren't "empowered" or needed "buy off" from others to get anything done. The fact is that they just needed to say "Do it like this" rather than continually ask "Do you think we should do it like this?" from everyone.

2. Courage and confidence are everything.
Being able to make a firm decision and have the confidence to back it up isn't easy. But without it, no one will ever act. They might listen but they won't act. The clever and hard part is the flip side: if you were wrong or change your mind, do it and own up to it as courageously and confidently as you made it the first time.

3. Look the part, especially among strangers.
There's a reason why public officials always wear suits. They want to project that they are serious, committed, together, and strong. I often come to work unshaven in a (clean) T-shirt and shorts. (I do work in the game industry.) But when I have anything more than a status meeting to attend or anything with someone outside of the company, I dress the part. Luckily, that means a collared polo, khakis, clean sneakers, smiling, etc. It works. Not worrying about your appearance does help with confidence, at least for me.

Nana said...

Hey guys, whenever either of you walk into a room it lights up!