On days that I had a mediation prior to Covid 19, I would dress the part. I would wear a pantsuit with very comfortable shoes for all the walking that I would end up doing by going back and forth between the different conference rooms.
Now, during the pandemic, all my mediations are either by telephone or video conference. If by video conference, the typical notion is to dress up…. from the waist up so that to the other parties on the video conference I “appear” to be dressed in business attire.
But, an interesting blog post on the Harvard PONS entitled “In Business Negotiations, Dress the Part” by Katie Shonk (October 27, 2020) makes a counterintuitive point: if we dress very casually, we imply that our “… status is so high… “ that we do not “… have to bother conforming to established norms.” (Id.)
She cites two examples of how not conforming actually elevated one’s status:
In one experiment, Gino found that executives in a Harvard Business School seminar she was teaching assessed her differently based on what shoes she was wearing. When she wore red sneakers with her business suit (an unconventional choice) they tended to think she had more consulting clients and charged them higher fees as compared to when she was wearing more traditional shoes.
Similarly, the research team found that clerks at designer boutiques in Milan, Italy (such as Armani, Christian Dior, and Burberry) intended to think that a hypothetical shopper wearing gym clothes would spend more at their boutique than would a hypothetical shopper wearing a dress and fur.(Id.)
This concept got me thinking; perhaps we would all be more effective if we dressed more casually from the waist up. Given the stress that we are already under working remoting and mainly online and given the strange new world of working by video conference, perhaps we could bring the stress level down by being more casual in our dress.
We would also perhaps lessen the power imbalance. That is, dressing more formally imposes an unequal balance of power implicitly signaling that the mediator (or judge or arbitrator) has more power than the party or participant. But, by dressing down or more casually, that mediator, arbitrator (or even judge?) will implicitly signal that she is “just one of them”, making the situation less nerve racking and more comfortable to be in.
So, perhaps “dressing for success” has taken on a new meaning in our Covid-19 world; T-shirts, sweatshirts, other comfortable “around the house” wear and perhaps even pajama tops and nighties? Who knows, as we have definitely entered a brave new world and a very new “normal”, it may also include the way we dress (or don’t dress)!
…. Just something to think about.