What the World Sees Through Your Lenses
Recently, I purchased new eyeglasses. It
had been nearly eight years since my last
eye examination, and though my prescription
hadn't changed much, my eight-year-old lenses
were scratched to the point that looking through
them was like looking through a kaleidoscope,
especially in the evening, and especially
when looking at the headlights of oncoming
People who know me know that I am a low-maintenance
guy with a "if it ain't broke, don't
fix it" mentality. This is especially
true of my clothing and style. My wife has
been known to retire shirts that she has tired
of seeing me wear. Incidentally, these are
often my favorite shirts, and she does this
when I am away on hunting trips, because I
typically return from these trips full of
optimism and full of appreciation that she
has enabled the trip by handling home duties.
If not for my wife and hunting, I would likely
continue to dress like a 1988 high school
That made it difficult for me to accept a
new style of eyeglasses. I asked, and Tim
the optometrist told me that I could keep
my old glasses and simply replace the frames.
He was, however, in agreement with my wife
that I should modernize my style. Incidentally,
Tim the optometrist is a neighbor, and I suspect
that my wife conspired with him to dismiss
my reluctance to change. Nearly eighteen years
of marriage have taught her how to ride this
"What do you do for a living?"
Tim asked. It wasn't a question I expected
from an optometrist. After a brief discussion,
it was settled that I was some kind of consultant.
"Well, let's look for frames that would
fit the part," he said and left me wondering
what I had looked like for the past eight
years - maybe some sort of ax murderer?
This eyeglass examination has me reflecting
on how I appear to those I encounter every
day. If I didn't look like "some kind
of consultant," what did I look like?
And, how did that affect my everyday interactions?
A few months back, I
wrote about body language and what I learned
about it from ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro. Body
language experts like Navarro focus on small
details that the average person doesn't consciously
recognize, like movement of a person's lips,
position of his shoulders and his choice of
attire. All of these non-verbal elements communicate
to those we encounter - even to those with
whom we don't speak - what kind of person
we are and what's on our minds.
Because the eyes are naturally one of the
first places people look for non-verbal communication,
the choice of eyewear is among the most important
style decisions a person makes. Some-kind-of-consultant
needs to establish trustworthiness, credibility
and strength. When a client or potential client
meets with me, he needs to feel assured that
he can trust me to add value to business decisions
that can dramatically affect his business's
bottom line. Obviously, what I say and what
I've done play key roles in establishing that
credibility. If I were an incompetent verbal
communicator and unproven professional, I
wouldn't have the opportunity. My non-verbal
communication can reinforce those qualifications
or detract from them.
Non-verbal communication registers in the
limbic system of the observer's brain. This
part of the brain also controls essential
reactions like self-preservation. Stimuli
received through the limbic system trigger
neural and endocrinal physical reactions,
like increased heart rate, in the body. Navarro
teaches that the limbic system deals with
threats, as well as comfort and discomfort.
It's why a smiling grandmother warms us and
puts us at ease, and a stern, square-shouldered
highway patrolman sends shivers up our backs.
The same process is in play in less dramatic
everyday interactions, like those between
It's why we should frequently examine ourselves
from the outside, looking for little changes
that can yield big results. In my case and
in the case of most people, it's very helpful
to engage trusted advisors in this process.
Spouses, close friends and professional peers
- those who feel comfortable sharing uncomfortable
observations - are a great place to look for
this sort of support.
Thanks to my style consultants, I now look
through much larger, rectangular lenses set
in a darker, thicker frame than what I had
worn for the past eight years. At first, it
was difficult to adjust to seeing my new look
in the mirror. I felt like the legendary baseball
broadcaster Harry Caray. However, I've since
noticed the eyewear of other business leaders,
and my style is similar. Whether this translates
into more business credibility is yet to be
seen, but I feel that my newfound awareness
of small details like eyewear style makes
me a more strategic communicator. Is it time
that you considered doing the same?
-- Mitch Arnold