Step One: Know Yourself
Knowing yourself requires you to be mindful of the impression you make on others because of your behavior preferences. You need to be mindful of how these behavior preferences cause tension. Your appearance, your competence, your oral presentation skills, and your feedback skills can all be sources of tension for others (Merrill and Reid, 1981).
An important area in which many IT geeks have blind spots is their appearance. A senior customer told me, “I need your systems administrators to be more aware of and concerned about their appearance when providing desk-side support. Many of our users are important people, highly educated, and are involved in critical programs and operations. They dress a certain way, and they are accustomed to being around people who are dressed a certain way.
When one of your systems administrators show up looking like they slept in their clothes, these users feel uncomfortable.”
This sentiment is consistent with research. As discussed in Chapter 2, the Big Five study found that, in general, IT workers scored lower on “image management” than their peers in other occupations, meaning that they scored lower on the disposition to monitor, observe, regulate, and control the self-presentation and image they project during interactions with others (Lounsbury et al., n.d.). This presents a challenge for certain IT geeks’ personal credibility. I have known many, many IT geeks who are extremely capable, trustworthy, and dependable, but would rather color their hair purple than wear a tie or a business suit.
According to Susan Bixler, author of Professional Presence, “Whenever we walk into a room, our clothing, manners, and mannerisms are on display. Others assess our selfconfidence and our ability to present ourselves based on about five seconds of information. Each of us has our own signature of professional presence—an indelible statement that we make the instant we step into a room—that should afford us an opportunity to connect immediately” (Bixler, 1992).
People judge us IT geeks immediately based on how we present and carry ourselves. Many people feel tension when they perceive that others are dressed in a way that is socially unacceptable or that is different from what they are used to. Dress is associated with attitude, and people with a perceived attitude of social indifference can make others feel uncomfortable (Merrill and Reid, 1981). In order to have personal credibility, we have to be mindful not just about how our appearance makes us feel, but about how it makes those around us feel and how it influences our ability to effectively interact with them.