April 7, 2020

Dress Up!

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“Lee — why are you dressed up for our Zoom meeting?” Professional Presence during COVID-19 — have a read ūüôā

I remember back in college, and then again in graduate school, that students would pull all-nighters during finals and then show up to the test in pajamas or sweats. I studied all night too, but then followed the advice of my mentor-mom and just before going to the exam — I’d take a shower, do my hair, put on make up, and dress up! I’m not sure I can attribute my good grades to my outfits, but I can definitely ascribe my alert, awake attitude to how I felt and carried myself into the classroom.

During these COVID-19 days, most of us have been forced to transition from a populated office environment to working from home. My meetings, like many others’, are now on Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans, Skype, Uberconference, Join.me and multiple other platforms that fortunately allow us to connect with our colleagues, teachers, friends and family. The power of seeing each other, and not just hearing each other’s voices or reading each other’s words, is awesome and capable of creating a connection that is impactful and meaningful.

I’ve noticed that on professional video meetings during the day, and on personal meetings in the evenings, my friends and colleagues keep asking me: Why/how do you look so nice? You’re wearing jewelry, your hair and make up look good — did you do your nails — wow! Working from home, I’m definitely way more casual — I’m not in dresses or high heels, my hair and nails look as good as they can because I’ve been going to “Salon Saturdays” in my 13-year-old daughter’s bathroom (I’m impressed by how much product this girl has collected in her walks to CVS with her friends). I’m wearing a nice top and capris or jeans vs. tailored suits…but yes, I make an effort and it makes a difference to myself and to the people on my video call.

It seems obvious to me that if I’m meeting with a client, I need to dress up! It also seems clear to me that if I have a lunch-time meeting with a colleague or friend, I’d also look good — even if the restaurant happens to be in my dining room. And when I “attended” game night on Zoom on Saturday night with five other couples — well — I’d get out of sweats and an oversized T-shirt if I was going to one of their houses, or they’d come to mine.

There have been multiple occasions, lately, where I’ve been meeting people for the first time on a video call. Gratitude Gatherings, Meditation Meetings, You, Me & Tea, Writing Workshops, Empowering Exchanges — my calendar is quickly filling up with video events. “Thin-Slicing” — that psychological phenomenon where people unconsciously size each other up and determine in a matter of seconds whether they think we’re credible, competent, charismatic — whether they like us or trust us — is still in full-effect. And the power of nonverbal communication — even over the inter-webs, is still such that our facial expression, body language, attire — matters more than what we’re doing or saying. As brilliant and kind as that guy speaking to us from his bed seemed, I don’t think I’ll refer his services to my network anytime soon.

I hope I’ve made my case, for at least why I choose to dress up! I think, that in this rare moment in history, it’s cool to see people’s homes and family members in virtual meetings. I don’t think it’s cool to see their unbrushed hair or stained sweatshirt. In work-related meetings, at least, I find it important to maintain professional presence and self/mutual respect through how we show up. For my own well-being, even though I’m home all day — I have 3 different outfits: work clothes (albeit more casual), workout clothes (loving my new Peloton) and only in the late evening, the movie night, paint night, puzzle time and bed-time pajamas. Those beloved, comfortable sweats and pjs didn’t come with me to finals in school, and they’re not accompanying me throughout this season.

Lee Broekman is a communication coach and trainer with a mission to make the world a better place, one communicator at a time. Her company Organic Communication works with high level leaders and trains decision makers in top organizations to communicate, collaborate and innovate naturally and effectively. Delivering programs in concentrated bursts, with high intensity and elevated engagement, Lee turns powerful content into actionable, applicable tools. Her recent book, Stop Blocking, Start Connecting: 8 Key Skills of Successful Communicators, is available on Amazon.

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