We’ve all probably had this happen at some point in life. You’re by yourself, in the middle of doing something innocent and routine, when someone casually walks into the room at the exact wrong moment of whatever you’re doing, and it looks like you’re in the middle of something highly awkward, or inappropriate. You look up, lock eyes with the person glaring into your soul, then exclaim with a deer in headlights expression “It’s not what it looks like!”. Afterwards, you give a detailed explanation of what’s actually happening to alleviate the tension caused by among other things, perfectly bad timing.
If you’ve ever been in that scenario before, you probably know very well the feeling of being arbitrarily judged, and the perceived need to respond quickly and favorably in order to restore a sense of relational balance. While these dynamics are highly unfair to the one being judged, there are two facts that stem from this scenario.
- The truth is one thing
- How you are judged by others is an entirely different thing
Despite what the truth actually is, people form opinions based on other standards almost immediately. It happens so often and is so widely accept that words of wisdom like “a first impression is a lasting impression” are tailored for the occasion.
Luckily, there is a flip side. Opinions are not truth, and people get things twisted so often that other words of wisdom reminding us to “never judge a book by its cover” also exist. Nonetheless, people are entitled their to opinions regardless of what the truth may be. It is for this reason that appearances do matter, but aren’t everything. Here are several key factors to explain why that is the case, and why you should make every effort to balance staying true to what you represent with how that truth is perceived the eyes of others.
1. You’re Always Communicating
Why this matters: Whether consciously on unconsciously, you’re always sending messages into the world both verbally, and non-verbally. Among other things, the combination of facial expressions, posture, gestures, vocal inflections, word choice, muscle tension and even breathing send an infinite number of messages which are then interpreted by the world around you. While in most cases you have control over what signals you send, interpretation of those signals falls solely in the hands of the signal recipient(s). Assuming we want the people we communicate with to correctly interpret what we’re trying to get across, we have a responsibility to balance both WHAT we say and do with HOW we say and do it.
Why it’s not everything: While we should make every effort to effectively and accurately communicate, lets face a couple of things head on. First, miscommunication happens, and in some cases, it’s the default. Don’t believe this? Type ‘RBF’ in your search engine when you have moment and look at the images section. You’ll quickly find that the images you see may give you one impression but the reality of those images may give you a completely different outlook.
Secondly, as previously mentioned, how messaging is interpreted falls solely on the recipient, and is based on factors entirely beyond your control. This sometimes creates cases where you may find yourself backed into a social corner despite having the best intentions, or no intentions at all. Think offense and forgiveness at this point. On one hand, something you say or do can spark an unintended trigger which has nothing to do with you personally, but causes an unpleasant reaction anyway. On the other hand, there are instances where nothing you say or do can achieve a favorable outcome despite being completely honest, humble, and genuine.
There will be times where your attempts to communicate are negatively received despite your best attempts to avoid such an outcome, and that’s perfectly fine. When it does happen, take what you’re able to from those scenarios and simply move on.
2. Opinions Change Outcomes
Why this matters: As someone who has made a living in sales and marketing, take it from me. Having great character is good, but having a great reputation goes very far; quite literally at that. While character can be defined as who you actually are, reputation by contrast is defined who others believe you are, and the implications of those beliefs as it relates to influencing outcomes nearly goes without saying. Next, and probably most important is the amount of time it takes to influence the opinions of others. Depending on the scope and the amount of people, favorably influencing public opinion could take months if not years to accomplish, while destroying a person’s reputation can happen overnight.
Why it’s not everything: Ironically, the influence that opinions have on overall outcomes isn’t everything for the same reason it matters so much. While the opinions of others will indeed affect their interactions with you (or lack thereof), they are still indeed opinions and can therefore be influenced regardless of what the truth is. Using the character versus reputation example for reference, what this means is that while reputation can be developed because of your good character, it can also be developed in spite of it. For this reason alone, I am more inclined to suggest that one preserve their true character even if it’s at the cost of a good reputation.
3. Cultural & Societal Norms Dictate They Are
Why this is important: As much as I dislike the notion of having to acknowledge this, it makes the list through sheer force and dominance. We function in a society that makes snap judgments based solely on the standard of appearance. Furthermore, this form of judgement can be justifiable in some cases. After all, it’s extremely common within our cultural context to dress and groom ourselves to specifically signal things to others such as status, occupation, emotional state and personal preference. Putting these together, and you end up with a result with which you can draw some reasonable conclusions about a person simply by what they’re wearing.
Why it’s not everything: While it is true at times that you can tell a lot about a person by the things they wear and how they’re groomed, it is also true that appearances can paint a false narrative about an individual. This becomes especially true when stereotypes associated with cultural nuances such as race, and socioeconomic status are imposed onto the equation. On top of that, our outer appearance can never serve as a replacement for intangibles such as integrity, intelligence and character. In other words, the smartest, hardest working, and most upright person in the room may be wearing jeans and a hoodie. Conversely, the weakest link in the same room may be hiding that fact behind a tailored three piece suit.
4. Appearances May Affect How You Feel Directly
Why this matters: For some, if not most people, when you look good, you feel good. A simple fact that we can all acknowledge is the desire to feel comfortable and confident in our own skin. There are quite few feelings like looking in the mirror and liking the person staring back at you. After all, we generally tend to do better when we feel better, and with a nearly infinite amount of avenues available to achieve looking better, it’s an easy way to get a quick and lasting confidence booster.
Why it’s not everything: While looking good can certainly help us feel better, it should come as no surprise that looking better should not be our only means to feeling better. Doing a quick search on self-care will provide a bevy of methods available to help build mood and confidence. Routine activities, diet, exercise, and relaxation are just a few other outlets we can use to help obtain a better outlook on both life and ourselves.
While appearances do serve as a partially accurate guideline to help draw inferences and conclusions, they are only serve as a surface level glimpse into a wider, more robust reality of things and people. As a result, we have a responsibility on all sides to not only put our best foot whenever possible, but to look beyond what we initially see and explore the layers of truth underneath as they present themselves.
#HardWorkEasyLiving – Do HWEL For Yourself