Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Rumple-Feathered Trend Forgetter

"Why? What's wrong with my outfit?"
This is the another in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Rumple-Feathered Trend Forgetter

Environment: At almost any networking event, but almost never at a clothing store.

Behavior: This oddly plumaged bird shows up at a variety of networking events but has a particular affinity for those which cater to the technical mindset. While his general behavior while interacting with others may not be unusually limiting, the aforementioned plumage may indeed pose a challenge. The specific issue is that the Trend Forgetter's feathers just never seem to fit in with his surroundings. They may clash, be wrinkled, unkempt, ill-fitting, or even smell. Unfortunately, this means that, while they might be perfectly delightful individuals, their appearance brings forth emotions from bemusement to disgust in those with whom they would like to connect.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: First impressions are fair. We all know that no one should be judged purely by their appearance. Books and their covers, and all that. We also know that it's an unfortunate fact that we are so judged. Of course, there are some things that we just can't help, but that being said, there is absolutely no reason we can't look our best.

Of course, it's pretty obvious that clothing should be clean and unwrinkled. It should also fit well. I know that I've been guilty of wearing things that I've "outgrown" in the past. That lasted until I saw a video of myself doing just that. It wasn't pretty. The clothes should also fit the venue. I once heard a friend of mine criticized for wearing a dress shirt and slacks when most of the other attendees sported jacket and tie.

Again, I agree that no one should judge based solely on appearance, but the fact remains that those first impressions do count and are hard to shake. Our appearance conveys volumes to those around us. A dirty or unkempt appearance conveys a lack of respect for ourselves and for those with whom we would like to connect. Inappropriate clothes may convey the message that we don't understand social convention. While many of us like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, we don't want people to worry whether we have the social skills to treat their referrals properly.

Counter-Measures: For the most part the Trend Forgetter's behavior only hurts himself. We don't have to worry about him detracting from our networking efforts by his inappropriate couture. The main counter-measure that we need to keep in mind is that we ourselves shouldn't judge the book by its cover. Many times those who aren't fitting in because of their appearance will be the exact same ones who have no clue how to behave at an event. This is our chance to play the host and rescue them. We just have to take the time.

How We Can Help: As I just mentioned, one of the things we can do is just to treat them as a human being, just like us. A human being with his own quirks and eccentricities -- just like us. The only time this gets to be problematic is when we would like to introduce or refer the Trend Forgetter to someone in our network. Remember, a referral is essentially lending our reputation, so if they don't give a good first impression, it not only relects badly on them, but it also calls our own judgment into question. In these cases, a little prep-work with the Trend Forgetter might help. The conversation might go something like: "Hey, Bob. I would really like to invite you to have coffee with David Smith and me next week. David owns his own company, but he's pretty casual, so if you just wear some dress slacks and and oxford shirt, you should fit in just fine."

For those of us with a more technical mindset, having some clear parameters within which to work makes life a lot easier for us. Helping us fit in and be more comfortable in a networking situation will definitely go a long way toward strengthening our relationship.

Photo credit: Teddy Llovet

2 comments:

  1. Good advice - fashion is a moving target; and it may also depend heavily on what it is one does as to how one is attired. But, of course, clean and fresh-smelling are always a nice start.

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  2. Hi, Jeff

    To a certain extent, I agree with what you say. Back when I was a freelance programmer, people looked at me askance if I was wearing a suit. It just wasn't what they expected. Still, I think those kind of situations are a fairly small minority. In general, if someone is at a networking event, they should be conforming to the dress code of the other attendees (with maybe a little "flair" thrown in to help start the conversation).

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