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In today's economy we need every tool we can get to stay head-and-shoulders above the competition. The way you look shouldn't matter, but it does.  

A few years ago NPR radio listeners were shocked to hear that an attorney actually won the "drug possession" case against his client on the grounds that the undercover policeman who requested the drugs of the defendant at a gay bar was so magnetically handsome that it amounted to "entrapment due to excessive good looks." The way the policeman looked determined the outcome of the case.

Anyone who has read Dr. Robert Cialdini's book, "INFLUENCE, the Psychology of Persuasion" wasn't surprised. Dr. Cialdini, a social psychologist, reports that we are bombarded daily with decisions to make, and without the time to thoroughly investigate every situation, we use "shortcuts" to help us choose and decide quickly.  How quickly? Harvard University has shown that you will size a person up in about two seconds – and that those impressions are lasting.

The mystery of the court case is revealed by Cialdini's research regarding "liking." Social scientists have identified a number of factors that reliably cause liking, and they assert that good-looking people are liked. It turns out that there is an unconscious assumption that looking good is good, and this becomes a handy shortcut. Research shows that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals favorable traits such as talent, kindness, honesty and intelligence. In staged trials, when the defendant was better looking than his victim, he was assessed a particular sum; but when the victim was more attractive, that sum nearly doubled. Cialdini says that juries give more favorable treatment to good-looking people, and that attractive defendants are twice as likely to avoid jail as unattractive ones. The way you look shouldn't matter, but it does.  

Dr. Cialdini asserts that we are not aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in our judgment. For example, men who saw a new-car ad with a seductive young woman in the ad rated the car as faster, more appealing, more expensive looking, and better designed than did men who viewed the same ad without the female model. Yet when asked later, the men refused to believe that the presence of the young woman had influenced their judgments.
However, if we consider the case of the "entrapment due to excessive good looks," it would appear that we might not believe that our judgment is influenced by attractiveness, but we apparently believe that others are seduced by attractive people.  

The case of the woman who owned a jewelry store and wanted to get rid of her excess stock of Native American jewelry involves another kind of shortcut.  The woman reduced prices substantially, but to no avail. Leaving for a trip, she scrawled a note to her assistant that said, "everything ½" – but her assistant misread the note as "everything times two." She doubled the price of the entire stock, and when the next tourist bus arrived, they cleaned out her stock.  What happened? With no time to investigate the hallmarks for a good piece of silver and turquoise jewelry, the tourists used the shortcut formula "Expensive = good."

Authority is also a powerful "weapon of influence."  It seems there is a deep-seated sense of duty to authority within us all. Two things in particular enable a person to be deemed an authority:  Titles and uniforms. Cialdini gives several examples of doctors orders being obeyed "no matter what" – even blatantly "bad" borders. And guards' uniforms are as effective as those of a policeman or a ship or airline captain. But what about the rest of us? Cialdini asserts that the "business suit" is also a uniform of authority, and with the simple act of jaywalking, passersby will blindly follow a man in a business suit; but not so when the same man jaywalks and is dressed casually. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that jaywalkers would follow a man in a "business" suit worn with a satiny blue shirt and matching tie; or a woman in a baby blue suit with an overall dated look.

The power of the business suit is also confirmed by Paul Fussell in his book, "UNIFORMS, Why We Are What We Wear." He asserts that particularly powerful business suits (for men or women) become ennobled and convey news of valuable personal qualities in its wearers.  

In his personal diary, General George noted that he did not always have the courage that was expected of him. He writes that he relied upon his uniform to give him courage. You have a "uniform" that can give you courage and authority, just like General Patton. It is the business suit, and with it you just might conquer the world. The way you look shouldn't matter, but it does!  

Sandy Dumont is a total image consultant based in Virginia. She is known as THE Image Architect, specializing in corporate and individual workshops that help people improve their image skills. For more information and free eBook go to


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