Accessorizing for your next negotiation: should appearance matter?

A Google Alert in this morning’s email directed my attention to an article titled, “Isn’t Your Look Part of Your Negotiation?“, posted on WomenandBiz.com, an online magazine “written for today’s entrepreneurial woman”.

The article emphasizes the importance of preparation to effective negotiation — namely, making the right impression with your appearance:

Here are some tips: mimic their style, put yourself in an attractive light and don’t create distractions. What does mimic their style mean? It doesn’t mean be who you are not, but rather present yourself in such a way that will look good to the other party… Mimic their look means to create a look for yourself that will be most pleasing for them to receive you.

Now here’s my favorite part, which the article offers up with a straight face and not even the faintest whiff of irony:

Negotiations are all about getting the other party to listen to you. Your hair, your clothing and your accessories should all be in tune to the tastes of the other party.

(Emphasis added.)

Huh? My accessories? Are you serious? (Incidentally, as my readers know, negotiations are indeed all about listening, but not “all about getting the other party to listen to you”. It’s in fact a lot about listening to them — vital to the relationship building that successful negotiations depend upon. Plus you’ll learn a great deal and be able to leverage the information you acquire.)

How about emphasizing the importance of a professional appearance? In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini describes how powerful authority is as a tool of persuasion and how readily we submit to those who wield it, often unable to distinguish between real and apparent authority. He points out that one of the most recognizable emblems of power here in the West is “the well-tailored business suit”, which “can evoke a telling form of deference from total strangers”, as experiments have shown.

Well-tailored suits aside, I confess I am left uneasy by all this talk about a negotiating woman’s appearance. Behind it lurks a whole array of social justice issues uncomfortable to discuss but urgent for us to face — women and aging, youth and beauty, race and skin color, antipathy toward the obese, prejudice against those with disabilities or deformities.

In urging women to “mimic” the look of their bargaining counterpart, how would the author of this article counsel the 60-year-old woman negotiating with her 30-year-old prospective boss? Or a woman of color negotiating in a predominately white workplace? Or a woman wearing a hijab? Or a woman with a face disfigured in a car crash, negotiating with people who are unscarred and whole?

There’s much, much more here than meets the eye.

                        author

Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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