Businesses love the team player – the worker who can collaborate with and inspire others.
Ironically, though, veering slightly from the usual uniform of a workplace, “can lead to positive attributions of status and competence in the eyes of others,” notes Silvia Bellezza, a Harvard Business School doctoral candidate, who with two Harvard professors recently published an article in the Journal of Consumer Research entitled, “The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring Status and Competence from Signals of Nonconformity.”
Psychologically, maintain the authors, people confer status on those who feel confident enough to risk adopting some nonconforming dress.
The operative word here is “risk.” Notes Bellezza: “Nonconformity always entails the costs of giving up the benefits of conforming behaviors. Deviating from the norm is a risky strategy and not everyone will dare engaging in such conduct. It is exactly by virtue of its costs, that nonconformity can act as a positive signal.”
One way the strategy can backfire, underscores Bellezza, is if a wearer appears to be sporting different attire unintentionally, signaling that he’s clueless about norms.
So, should job seekers or workers take such a risk?
Proceed carefully and adopt small statements, advise experts.
For a job interview, “it is acceptable to carry a personal accessory that gives insight into who you are as a person,” says Ft. Lauderdale, Fla leadership consultant, Jene Kapela.
“This will help you stand out to your interviewers and also provide a topic of conversation,” Kapela says. “But remember – the trick is to make sure your choice is unique enough to be noticed as different, but is also clearly intentional.”
Similarly, in the eyes of your co-workers, “you want to be known for your professionalism and enthusiasm, not a professional image that is out of alignment,” says Lindsay Witcher, practice development manager for outplacement firm RiseSmart.