Wednesday, December 29, 2004

work persona lesson 2: underdressing for success

In lesson one, you learned of the powerful manipulative effects that unnecessarily wearing a tie can have on others in the workplace. By now, you should have a firm understanding of using a 'fuck you' ensemble as a tool (although you've only learned of one component of such an ensemble), and should also have learned of the importance of using such tools sparingly. Today, you're going to learn how to inappropriately underdress, for the purposes of psychological manipulation.

Let's set the scene: you're some company big-wig, and you're waiting in a conference room for me, someone who you've never met, to discuss my proposed changes to some of the ways that you're doing things. You've been doing this shit one way for at least ten years, and you're offended that some asshole kid is going to come in and tell you how you've been doing it wrong. My boss is already in the room, guaranteeing you that it'll be a smooth transition, and that you have no reason to worry, but this is a situation that you've never been in before... you're definitely worried, and you blame me for it. You're way higher on the totem pole than me, but you know damned well that I don't have to follow the same rules... my world is foreign to you, and I can go over your head easily... your title doesn't mean jack shit in this situation, and you're going to look like an ass if I come up with a simple solution that has been under your nose for years. You hate and fear me.

To make matters worse, I show up to the meeting late.... this is MY meeting, and I'm late. It can't start without me, because nobody has any idea what I intend to present. Everyone's already there, nervously making smalltalk, and nobody can reach me on my cellphone. My boss is trying to assure you that everything's fine, but he's just saying this to save his own hide.

Finally, I show up, and I'm the worst dressed person in the room. You're in a suit (you don't want to seem like you're not taking these proposed changes seriously... you have to look your best), my boss is in a suit (he's afraid of you, and has to serve as a mediator between everyone and me, the technical guy), and everyone else in the room, all of whom probably work under you, are at least dressed nice, as you instructed them to be. I'm dressed as if this is the least important day of my workweek, barely squeezing by the company minimum standard for dressing. I'm wearing a button down shirt, no tie, and my sleeves are rolled up. I come in, make no apology for being late, make an obviously false excuse about the subway being slow, and barely bother to make eye contact with you as I sit down and get organized. You're completely offended, and because I didn't even think about kissing your ass, you fear me even more than you did before.

I brought a stack of folders with me, each with an obscure technical label on it. I rifle through them to find the one that applies to 'this' meeting (the others may just be for show, but nobody would suspect that). I put the appropriate folder in front of me, and place the others to the side. I open it up, look you in the eyes for the first time, and don't even greet you. I start right off with, "Okay, here's what I'm thinking..."

Alright... a lot of things are happening here, but our focus today is on the fact that I'm disrespectfully underdressed, and of course, we'll also discuss the message that it puts forth. The most obvious message here is the fact that I don't fear anyone; I've used similar techniques in every job that I've ever had. If I don't fear being fired, the idea of firing me becomes ridiculous... this is another lesson that will have to be discussed independently, but we can cover the aspect of 'what your clothes say' today. If my clothes impart the message that I don't fear you, it means that I'm excluded from the hierarchal system that you thrive in... you're powerless over me, because that was the only thing that you had on me. The odds are that I'm smarter, I'm respected in the company for reasons that you can't fathom, and I'm also unique to the company... there are hundreds of you, but only two of me. I'm basically saying 'fuck you' in a different way than I am when wearing a tie. I'm doing this simply because I can, and because there's no reason not to. Notice the subtle fact that I wear a tie to make it seem like I have an important meeting, but when I actually have an important meeting, I won't... I'm saying 'fuck you' every chance I get. The illusion of invulnerability is vital, but it's something that mostly comes from one's behavior, rather than his clothes... we'll discuss that in depth later... if you're ever ready for such an advanced lesson.

Aside from the message we just discussed, there's something much more important that underdressing says about me: "I'm respected because of my results, not my image." Few can say this about themselves, and even fewer are known for it. People tend to rise up the ladder because they pay their dues... if I underdress, I'm saying that I'm going to climb the ladder in spite of the fact that I won't bother to pay shit for dues. Someone who's in a position of power, without bothering with the silliness of the corporate world is there because it makes sense for him to be there... he's there because he gets results. Keep in mind that others are potentially only going to see this snapshot of my career; it could very well be that I kissed every ass that I could up to this point, but all they're going to see is me being in a good position and not giving a fuck about the rules. Even more important, my not needing to play by the rules is a slap in the face of everyone who has to... no matter who they are, I just proved that I'm better. Here's the real kicker though.... because the rules obviously don't mean shit to me, all that matters are results; this means that the other guy's lofty position isn't going to save his ass when I tell him that he's been doing shit wrong... and pulling rank on me won't help at all... he better have an idea to top mine if he wants to seem my superior.

Underdressing can be very dangerous if you don't have the goods to back the statement up. In many situations, your worth won't be tested, and usually, you shouldn't be underdressing for such situations. If you're good, underdressing can make you look better... it's just a nice little 'fuck you' to throw on top of the ability to get shit done. If you're just heading off to your desk to pretend that you're working while downloading porn in another window, underdressing just makes you look sloppy. You have to use this tool only when it counts. I'm not sure that you'll ever be in a position for it to count, in fact, I'm not sure why I'm even teaching you this shit. Who knows though, maybe you'll surprise me.