These days, meeting someone in person can arguably be a bit unnerving for some entrepreneurs. After all, according to the 2010 U.S. Census records, there are at least 10.1 million self-employed people, and while yes, plenty of solopreneurs pride themselves on dressing up even when they're working out of their home office, it's a safe bet plenty of you're working in sweatpants and forgetting to comb your hair until you pass a mirror at 11 in the morning. And if the only people you see on a regular basis are your spouse, your kids and the UPS driver, chances are also good you aren't exactly polishing your communication skills on a regular basis.
Thanks to the digital revolution, it may not be much easier for those of you who work in an office. If you spend most of your time huddled in a cubicle, conducting most of your work via chat, email and phone, and interacting with the same people day after day, you may not give as much thought to how you come off to others when you consistently roll into meetings 10 minutes late or wear that tattered hoodie to the office every day.
In other words, your interpersonal skills may well be getting a little rusty.
Which is why it can be helpful to remember the witticism thought to have been first uttered by humorist Will Rogers: "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression."
Why is the way you look so important? Because like it or not, "visual cues are typically the first piece of data about others that we're handed in the workplace, so we immediately—very often unconsciously—interpret those cues to evaluate whether others will be a good fit with us or not," says clinical psychologist Natalie Baumgartner, who's also the co-founder of RoundPegg, which consults with businesses on their company's culture.
To find out just which personal habits can be immediate turnoffs, we asked some business experts and small-business owners to chime in. Take a look at these seven turnoffs and keep track of the ones you find yourself guilty of. It can't hurt to know what you might be doing that could be bugging the person you're hoping to work with.
Being Poorly Dressed
Business casual has been around for a while, and it's fairly pervasive in some industries. Even Facebook founder and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg is famous for showing up to investor meetings in a T-shirt and hoodie—but you're not Mark Zuckerberg.
For most entrepreneurs, there's a time and place for business casual and a time and place to step it up and take your wardrobe up a notch. Anthony Mongeluzo, president of PCS, a Philadelphia-based information technology company that offers nationwide support, is certainly not alone when he says, "It irks me when people I meet, especially potential employees, don't dress up properly for a business meeting. You can almost never over-dress, but you can certainly under-dress.
"Being well dressed and groomed is basic," Mongeluzo adds, "and it tells me either this person doesn't pay attention to the basics or they're clueless to social conventions, which, in most cases, worries me more because they might represent my company."
Kent Burns, president of Simply Driven Executive Search in Indianapolis, says that when he meets someone in a business setting, "I assess them very quickly. Appearance communicates how much someone really cares about their persona. And I notice their fingernails, too—[both] men and women."
Wearing a Bow Tie
While this wasn't the most common turnoff cited, it's a great example of something you do that unknowingly annoys people. Andrew Mellen, a New York City-based professional organizer, says that when he meets someone in the business world wearing a bow tie, he can't help but cringe.
"Bow ties seem overly precious, and while I wouldn't say necessarily clownish, it's hard to take somebody seriously who's wearing one, unless they're wearing a tux at a formal event," Mellen explains. He also feels the same way about men wearing "extremely square-toed shoes" and women wearing "extremely high heels."
Due to what he sees as their lack of fashion sensibility, Mellen says, "It makes me question their judgment and therefore their credibility as an expert."
Chomping away at your gum seems to be a big turnoff for many—that smacking noise really gets on people's nerves.
One business owner even decided not to work with a possible business partner due to his "obnoxious" gum chewing. "I scheduled a meeting with a potential business partner at a local cafe," says Kelly Newsome, president of ConnectRoot, an outsourcing services firm based in Long Branch, New Jersey. Newsome says it was bad enough that he was 10 minutes late to the meeting, but he chewed gum "in an obnoxious way" from the moment he entered the cafe and all through the meeting.
"It was a major turnoff," Newsome says. If he had apologized for being late, or even offered Newsome some gum, he might have rehabilitated himself, she says, but he didn't, and she didn't wind up working with him. As she admits, "I tossed his business card in the trash at the cafe."
As Newsome noted above, being late can be very annoying—it's a big turnoff for a lot of entrepreneurs. "Being late to a meeting is a deal breaker. I hate wasting my money and time," says Bill McAlister, president of Top Dog Direct, a Trevose, Pennsylvania, marketing firm that markets the "As Seen on TV" products.
For many people, arriving late to a pre-set appointment only shows that you have no respect for their time and can't manage yours very well either. While you may not give much thought to being a few minutes late, some people consider it an unforgivable sin.
Collette Liantonio, president of Boonton, New Jersey-based Concepts TV Productions Inc., a production house for direct response TV commercials, says she's immediately turned off when someone is talking to her and yet not really talking to her. Her top turnoffs? "Failure to make eye contact and someone who looks past you at a networking event," Liantonio says. "I won't take someone seriously if they're busy searching for another conquest while not listening to me."
Jason Sherman, owner of Sherman Communications & Marketing Inc. in Chicago, agrees. "I hate it when someone's shaking your hand upon being introduced and looking away the whole time your hands connect," he says. And while it's possible the hand-shaker will be able to correct that lousy first impression, Sherman says, "Usually, after this experience, I've lost all interest in doing business with this person."
Several other entrepreneurs mentioned this as a pet peeve, too. "I find businesspeople can be a bit dismissive if they don't think something or some conversation isn't propelling them forward," says Monica Lee-Henell, who founded and hosts Smart Creative Women, a Web TV show aimed at helping women learn, grow and get inspired. "What your mother said is true: Good manners count."
Using Too Much Business Jargon
Think about it: We all know someone who does this. Someone who thinks we should "get granular" or "leverage a best practice" in order to take advantage of our "core competency."
Mark Stevens, CEO of MSCO, a Rye Brook, New York-based global marketing and management consultancy, says someone who overuses business jargon is a big turnoff for him. He offers an extreme example: "Let's discuss the new paradigm that's reshaping the tech world through disruptive innovations that can be reverse engineered back to a founding concept inspired by galloping globalization."
If you talk like that, Stevens—and probably quite a few others—will likely back away from you.
Always Going With the Hard Sell
"I admire dedicated sales professionals and don’t dislike sales pitches per se, or even a little bit of aggressiveness when it’s called for," says Lynda L. Hinkle, an attorney in Blackwood, New Jersey. "Some people, however, take this beyond the boundaries of good sense and end up damaging their chances of doing business with me,"
People who are trying too hard too quickly also bothers Mongeluzo. "Timing is everything," he says, "and when someone tries to move too quickly, I always see a red flag. It has the aroma of desperation. And I almost never deal with anyone who's desperate. Why is this person pushing so hard? What don't I know?"
One last word of advice: Even if you manage to get through a face-to-face meeting by showing up on time and not dressing too casually, wearing a bow tie, chewing gum, dropping too much business jargon or being dismissive, you could still pick up the phone and turn someone off. Kirk Johnson, managing director of Kirk Johnson Executive Search in Corona, California, says he's always a bit irked when he's talking to someone on the phone and hears them tapping away, replying to emails. "And eating during a phone conversation—we can tell," he says.
Seems the road to success is full of potholes for unsuspecting travelers. You'd be wise to pay closer attention to your interpersonal habits and be careful out there.
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