Shoulder Up

People watching is one of my favorite activities whether sitting in the airport, walking through the store, participating in a meeting, or walking a job site.  There is just so much to observe and wonder about – not to mention, to try to make sense of.  For example, what does that person do for a living, how did he or she end up in that position, why does he walk so slow, why does she walk so fast, where are they going, where are they coming from, do they have a full length mirror, …?

Through observation, some commonalities arise including: selection of approach; tone of voice; hand motions/gestures; complexity of verbal skills/selection of terminology; posture while seated, standing and walking; and selection of attire.  All of which give rise to questions regarding the presence of a correlation between others’ perception of how a person carries and present’s themselves, and their success at work and in life.  I would assume that if I’m noticing these attributes of individuals, others must be too.

This isn’t just what our parents taught us – don’t judge a book by its cover; or what HR taught us in interviewing courses – don’t make judgments based on appearance or select people who we think are like us.  This is more than appearance.  This is everything about how a person carries and presents him or herself.  The question is, do people ever think about how they carry and present themselves, and how other’s perceive how they carry and present themselves?  Should anyone think about this?  Does it matter?

My perception is that it does matter, and we should think about this.  My hypothesis is that there is a correlation.  Why, you ask?  Several past experiences come to mind:

  • While walking many construction job sites, I have yet to find a successful supervisor/foreman who slouches or is nonchalant in his/her actions.  He or she is always aware of their surroundings, holding their head high, properly attired, and walking and talking with a purpose.
  • While working on an organizational development project, everyone in the office told me they feared talking one-to-one with the leader – this caused many issues in the company.  After having one-to-one conversations with the leader, I noticed why.  When the leader would ponder a suggestion, a certain “look” came over the leader’s face that was rather intimidating.  After gentle advisement of the presence of the “look,” the leader worked to change the “look.”  Follow-up conversations with employees ensured the leader that the “look” was gone resulting in open and frequent communication.
  • While working with a person in an organizational restructuring event, it was noticed that this person always talked at a level significantly higher than those around.  People did not understand what this person was saying a lot of times and felt belittled.  This caused the employees to lose respect for the leader, disabling the leader’s ability to make progress.  The leader refused to adjust their presentation, and eventually moved on to a more fitting workplace.
  • While working in a manufacturing plant, a young and attractive engineer would walk through with tight jeans and low cut shirts (left over college clothing).  The operators perceived the young lady in an inappropriate manner, and would not take her serious.  After advisement, she changed her attire to khakis and a nice polo top.  This led to a change in the perception of her by the operators, and was later followed with the completion of many successful projects.

Each of these examples illustrate the point at hand – other’s perception of how a person carries and presents him/herself impacts that person’s success. Successful people walk and/or talk with a purpose and with meaning; they stand and sit up straight (they are aware of their body language).  Successful people pay attention to their actions and their words, and understand the impact of their actions and words.  Successful people are constantly aware of their presence, and consider how others perceive their presentation of themselves.

Where do we go from here?

Recognize that others are processing everything about how you carry and present yourself.  Check yourself.  Pay attention to not just what you say, but how you say it from both the actual selection of words and the body language/non-verbal cues used.  Pay attention to your approach – stop and think a minute about what approach is best in what situation (remember that one approach will not likely work with every situation). Observe others and learn what not to do in certain situations.  Pay attention to how you dress – always dress the part.  Walk with a purpose, talk with a purpose and keep those shoulders up.


© 2013 Heather Williams-Cavaretta

One thought on “Shoulder Up

  1. What you say makes a lot of sense. I guess I should go out and buy a new wardrobe. I’m thinking of going with more of the GQ look for senior Project Managers……

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