Have you ever noticed that some folks simply get treated better?
More important, would you like to know what it takes to be one of them?
If yes, pay attention.
The way to get there is easy.
You see, we recently hopped on an afternoon flight out of Denver. Out of convenience, we set aside our normal leather carry-on bag and grabbed an older olive drab utilitarian bag. We can fit several days’ worth of clothes in it.
As we boarded, something startled me.
“Thank you for your service,” the flight attended said as we stepped onto the plane.
With nothing more than a glance, she judged us. In her mind, she had a picture of who we were, what we earned and, likely, why we were traveling.
By the time the plane was fully boarded, she probably had a vision for every passenger who shuffled by her. Some were right… many were wrong.
We’re just lucky we didn’t wear our favorite pair of work pants – the pair that needs patches for the patches. We probably would have been sent to the back of the plane.
Quick to Judge
We can’t blame the flight attendant for a bit of profiling. It’s part of her job. It’s for safety. And she’s surely become quite adept at picking out the folks who will hassle her on the flight.
And while profiling has become a taboo practice that will get any lawyer to drool… it’s human nature. It’s bred into us.
Like it or not… we all do it every day.
Get this. The journal Nature Human Behaviour recently published a study out of Princeton University that was aimed at learning just how quick we humans are to judge.
It looked to find out how quickly we gauge a person’s competency… just by the clothing they wear.
The test was simple.
Subjects were shown headshots of folks wearing various types of clothing and jewelry. Half of the pictures featured what were considered “rich” upper-body clothing, while the other half had “poor” clothing.
To control for other biases, the “models” were featured multiple times in multiple types of clothing.
The test subjects were given just a quick glimpse of these headshots – with viewing times ranging from mere milliseconds to a full second.
They were then asked to rate the person’s competency.
As we’d guess, the folks with the “rich” clothing were deemed as significantly more competent.
But here’s the jaw-dropper. After seeing these results, the scientists behind the study warned test-takers about the bias and told them not to judge based on clothing.
The results didn’t change.
Putting more emphasis on the idea, the scientists then paid test-takers not to care about clothing.
And, once again, the results didn’t change.
Clearly, the clothes we put on our back each morning matter.
Surely you can see the benefit in investing in nice clothes. But the folks at Princeton are quick to remind us of another lesson.
“Poverty is a place rife with challenges,” said the study’s co-author Dr. Eldar Shafir. “Instead of respect for the struggle, people living in poverty face a persistent disregard and disrespect by the rest of society. We found that such disrespect – clearly unfounded, since in these studies the identical face was seen as less competent when it appeared with poorer clothing – can have its beginnings in the first tenth of a second of an encounter.”
Our minds are quick. They make decisions far faster than most of us can ever imagine.
It means if we want to get ahead, we must be aware of how and why our minds make the decisions they do.
If you’re looking to get some pity, go ahead and put on the old T-shirt and worn-out jeans. But if you’re looking to get ahead – and maybe even get something you may think you don’t deserve – get out the iron, put on something crisp and make a good first impression.
Just remember… that first impression is made long before you ever open your mouth.
If you want to get ahead, dress nicely.