Backpacker’s guide Education

Wear your attitude

Presentation Class it up.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

You may have heard about the person who appeared for an interview via video conference suitably attired, in a smart jacket and tie that looked perfect on screen. It’s a good thing he wasn’t asked to stand — because he was wearing shorts!

I’m told that interviewers sometimes ask candidates to get up and fetch something just so they can check that they are dressed (what’s considered) right, from top to toe!

Maybe this is just the stuff of modern recruitment legend, but it points to something important. Dressing carefully for an interview says something about how we regard the job, and how seriously we take the interaction itself.

We dress in certain ways for specific occasions, and, over time, develop a sense of what is appropriate or suitable for different contexts — work, play, partying, cultural events, and so on. These days, of course, there is much more flexibility in attire and a greater acceptance of diverse clothing styles; but within the corporate and business world there are still norms of attire that one might be expected to follow.

Still, I certainly don’t subscribe fully to the idea that “clothes make the person.” Clothing is only one of the many norms and expectations that govern social life, and only one of several things that people use to make judgments — often wrongly — about who we are and how (and what) we think.


There are hundreds of other signals we send out — intentionally and unintentionally — that work to build that impression. Sociologists and psychologists have studied what is called “the presentation of the self” in everyday life, and I am not about to go into a detailed academic discussion on that here. I’m also not advocating that we get into full-fledged impression management.

But it may be useful for us to pause and think about how we might be coming across to others and the consequences (for ourselves) of creating a certain impression, because sometimes the attitudes we wear (beyond the clothes) can have subtle effects on our immediate environment — group of friends, study group, class.

This becomes clearer when you think about how you are affected by others in your peer group — those who come late, those who constantly interrupt, shift in their chairs, fall asleep or fidget with their phones, who chatter with each other or share personal jokes while the class is in session… you get the picture. Now, to be fair, none of these may be done with an intent to communicate a lack of interest in the class or to suggest disrespect.

But too often, that is how these behaviours are read, not only by the rest of the peer group, but also by the instructor or facilitator. At minimum, these behaviours are minor and temporary distractions for all those concerned. But when repeated over time, they can have one of two effects: we get used to them and write them off as chronic and unimportant, or two, they can spread like a meme to the rest of the group and even demotivate the teacher and, by extension, everyone else.

However much we may subscribe to the idea that outward appearances are not important, we can’t get away from the fact that we do operate on the basis of those appearances.

So, there’s something to be said for the visible attitude one should wear to class, or to work. Being on time, sitting up straight (or at least not lounging), visibly paying attention to others when they are speaking, putting your cellphone away or face down, having a notebook and pen handy… these are the some of the ways in which an attitude of interest is displayed. And believe me, an attitude of interest can be infectious.

For sure, we can’t be completely responsible for how others read us. But we do know how we read others, and a simple exercise in reflection can give us clues about how our “performed” attitudes might affect other people.

The author teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 6:25:24 PM |

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