Image: Your Competitive Edge

By Lynne Mackay, Image Consultant


It’s easy to think about what you wear as part of your daily routine, an almost unconscious choice. However, it is important to remember that clothes form part of your appearance and how people will evaluate you. Within 10 seconds of meeting someone, your subconscious has already noted certain characteristics, such as body type, hair colour, facial expressions, tone of voice—and clothing choices. If these initial perceptions are negative, we tend to attribute secondary characteristics that are equally negative, such as unprofessional, lacking attention to detail, unknowledgeable, etc.

Although we’re not consciously choosing to “judge a book by its cover,” we do have a tendency to evaluate a person’s character based on appearance. The style of clothing someone chooses to wear can make them come across as being more sincere, reliable and trusting, or more daring, provocative and unreliable.

Appearances can even influence judgments of a person’s competence even when the task at hand is unrelated to appearance. As someone who wants to be taken seriously and seen as a competent, know that your dress will influence how others assess you and your abilities, and dress accordingly.  Even though a suit or similar formal attire may not be required or expected in many of your organizations, your clothing choices still play an important part in the way people think of you: intelligent, knowledgeable and professional.

Our appearance also affects the way we see ourselves. We usually feel better about ourselves when we make an effort to look our best. Image plays an important role in creating a positive outlook and in enhancing personal motivation. A change in hairstyle, an addition to your wardrobe, or being in better physical condition can help create a more positive, professional image.

Polling questions during a recent webinar, “Projecting a Winning Image: The Psychology of Perception,” indicated the number one negative aspect of a person’s image was clothing that is too tight. So making the right retail choice is the starting point in creating a professional image that speaks well of you. Before you purchase clothing, ask yourself—or a friend: Does it fit properly? Is it comfortable? Is it the right thing to wear this season? Is this appropriate for the kind of job I have?  Is it suitable for my body type?

Accentuating your strengths and downplaying your weaknesses is the key to dressing properly for your body type. Here are some suggestions for the three most basic types: triangle, rectangle, and round.


  • Triangle: Smaller midsection with most of one’s weight in the thighs, derriere and legsTo flatter this shape, draw attention to the top half of your body. Extend the shoulder line to balance with hips. Look for fabrics that have weight and flow away from body (e.g., tweed).


  • Rectangle: Bust and hips are about the same size, creating an overall straight silhouette

    Your style aim is to create the illusion of curves. Broaden your shoulders with collared shirts and structured jackets, and cinch your waistline to create definition.


  • Round: Larger bust with most of one’s weight in the stomach, derriere and upper thighsShoulders, hips and thighs are narrower, and should therefore be the focus to flatter this shape. To create the illusion of a longer and slimmer upper body, draw attention upwards towards your shoulders and face. Look for styles that are elongating and have a slimming effect on the torso.


Beyond body type considerations, every professional should have the basic wardrobe items. Invest in good quality items, as they should last for at least five years.

  • Suit jacket
  • Pair of tailored dress pants (also, for women, straight or A-line skirt)
  • White, collared shirt
  • Blazer or item jacket
  • Pair of patterned pants
  • Sweater or cardigan
  • Overcoat to cover all hem lengths

Aside from these timeless pieces, it’s never a bad idea to have a few trendy items. When a person wears dated clothing, they risk sending the message that they are not likely up to date on a professional level as well. To maintain an impression of professional currency be sure to have a few items that are fashionable or in the popular colours of the season.

The critical skills in the workplace today remain a combination of academic skills, teamwork skills and personal management skills. Image awareness is only one element that affects personal management, but it can play an important role in how you present yourself. Dressing the part can help you influence others, have people treat you better, and gain trust for special assignments, but more importantly, it helps you build your self-confidence and pride. As the saying goes, “If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you do good.”

Lynne Mackay delivers individual consultations, keynote presentations, workshops and conferences that enhance a company’s human resources credibility. Her programs include personal image, networking and business etiquette/professional behaviour programs.  With her 30-year background in personal appearance and image development, Lynne has worked with Fortune 500 companies across North America and has counselled top executives in many well-known corporations.  Her in-house seminars are dynamic and effective, providing valuable practical insights that can be applied by all who attend. Mackay Byrne Group Inc.:

Being at Your Best with Difficult People and Situations

Let’s talk communication. Communication is easy when it’s easy. When we’re getting along with others, having fun, feeling comfortable, it’s a pleasure to be communicating. Our communication competence is required of us when the going gets tough. Being at our best is required when we’re challenged by others, when we find ourselves in disagreement, when we encounter a difficult person or situation.

Being at our best when it’s most difficult is the real test of our maturity and character. There are a variety of helpful tactics and messages that can be employed given certain difficult circumstances that increase the likelihood of favourable outcomes. But for us, for now, let’s start at the most fundamental and most vital: thinking.

The way we think about ourselves, others, and the situation is the foundation from which we begin any difficult engagement. Being at your best when confronted with difficulty requires you to be able to think clearly and rationally; to not be sucked into a losing battle; and, to remain calm and be fair (with yourself and others). Easier said than done when your blood pressure is rising, your heart is pounding because of this insensitive, overbearing #@#@!- whoa- easy big fella. Yes, it can be hard, but it’s not impossible. Let’s take a look at something that can make a real difference and help us deal better with the inevitable difficult circumstances of life.

Take a page from Buddha. Mentally thank the difficult person or situation for allowing you the opportunity to be your best. I, as an experienced squash player, take little pride in beating a far worse player. I’m thankful for a match that pushes me to the limit. We’re thankful of the experiences in our life that push us to be at our best in maturity and character. In Buddhism we would think of difficult people and situations as our teachers. They are allowing us to practice being better; without them we can never improve and grow in maturity and character.

If at this point, you, the reader, are going along with this so far…great! That means you’re open to some ideas that challenge our normal sense of conflict resolution and you probably have the mental capacity to actually think this way when you’re next confronted by something difficult.

The reason we want to be so gratuitous is because this mind-set frames the circumstance differently in our head. We are what we think. Our thoughts create our emotions; our emotions impact our behavior; our behavior is all everyone else sees and hears. It all starts with the way we think.

Instead of getting upset, frustrated, anxious when confronted by a difficult person or situation start with the most fundamental. Control what you can: think calm, think rational, and think Thank You.

Paul Byrne
Mackay Byrne Group

Network Well

Part of our collective professional responsibilities is to attend networking events in order to find business. Some of us are pretty good at it, most of us are not. For a variety of reasons, professionals come up empty handed when it comes to business development in this pseudo social/professional arena. The three elements of success are preparation, curiosity, and self promotion. Let’s discuss the reasons why many fail, and focus on ways to turn losing into winning.

First, answer this question yes or no: would you prepare yourself for an upcoming client meeting, or a presentation? I suspect all would answer yes. Now the next question: would you prepare yourself to attend a social networking event (beyond what to wear and where to park)? I suspect the majority of us would answer no. We need to change this answer to a yes by doing some homework prior to attending one of these events.

We don’t want to suck the fun and spontaneity out of these events, but at the same time we all want to make some contacts that turn into business or advancement. The question now is what kind of preparation is required? Thanks to online access to information and the good old telephone, you can just search and ask about the host organization and the attendees. Your goal is to discover which professions are attending and to connect what you offer professionally to this population. Uncover and think about what professional services these people would use and how you could provide them. These services would hopefully be ones you provide, but also consider who you know whom you could refer.

Preparation is also going to be particularly important when it comes time for self promotion; we’ll get to that in a minute.

We know that these events are not sales calls. We don’t close business here; we just open the doors to business conversations down the road. The thing about down the road is that it can be a long road indeed. The connections we make at these social events must be memorable in order for people to think of you, and what you offer when it’s way down the road. Being positively memorable is a crucial requirement when attending these events. And being memorable hinges on emotion. People will remember you if you make them respond emotionally to you in a positive way.

Communication occurs on two channels: one, content: words spoken and heard. The second is the emotional channel. The elements at play at the emotional level are trust, confidence, competence, and very importantly, likeability. Whereas content level communication is easily forgotten, emotional level communication is more easily remembered. Simply, we remember if we liked someone even if we can’t remember the content of our conversations. The question: what makes you positively memorable, i.e.: likeable? Answer: Be interested! Be genuinely curious and ask questions about the life story of those you meet. Ask,

  • Where are you from?
  • Where are you parents from?
  • What was it like growing up there?
  • Brothers and sisters?
  • How did you get from there to here?
  • Etc.

Be bold, be courageous and ask questions. Yearn to learn about the biographies of those you meet. Listen for connections (things in common) between their life experiences and your own. When you hear them, talk about them. The motto here is; better to be interested than interesting.

Self Promotion
And finally, often attendees are so uncomfortable with self promotion that the topic of business never even comes up at the event. It makes you wonder why you went in the first place. Gentle promotion of what you do; what you offer; what your company does; and, how you help,  is vital in order to develop business at a networking event. And here’s how to do it.

Be the first to ask, “What do you do?” Be sure they elaborate on the answer; ask more questions if you must. It’s important to have a person speak for a couple of minutes about their job, so when they reciprocate and ask about yours, you’re allowed to speak for a couple of minutes (self promotion and business development).

Here’s where your pre-event preparation comes into play: You now have a pretty decent idea of the professionals in attendance. As a result, you should have a clear statement prepared as to how what you do (what you offer)  helps people in their industry or profession.

After you have told them what you do, ask: “Do you have anyone providing this?” Suggest: “Instead of getting into a business conversation at a social event, could you have his/her card to follow up and discuss in more detail?”

Business development in the social arena requires preparation (who will be there and how they need you); being emotionally memorable (do what people like: ask questions); and, being able to transition social talk to business as a matter of course in the conversation. Good luck and have fun.

Paul Byrne
Mackay Byrne Group