You have heard this a million times: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And you will keep hearing it because it is true. People size up each other within a few seconds.

Based on external cues, including dress,  people assess one another positively or negatively. We make a flash judgment of someone as trustworthy, capable, friendly, intelligent or the opposite—and we deal with them based on those impressions.

It stands to reason that first impressions can make a big difference in a business negotiation. If the other party perceives us as untrustworthy or shady, what kind of deal are we going to get?  Dress can also affect the perception of power, and power can play a significant role in negotiation.

How you dress is crucial is creating a good first impression. Some negotiations will require formal business attire and some may be done in khakis and polo shirts.

Among the factors to consider are these:

  • What are the expectations of the other party? Are they formal or informal?
  • Where will the negotiation take place? At a resort or in the boardroom?
  • What is the culture of the parties? Certain cultures are more formal than others.
  • Have you negotiated with the other party before? Perhaps you are no longer making a first impression.
  • Are you on friendly terms or not? You may be at odds, and how you dress can influence perceptions of power and stature.

Gladys Edmunds writes “Casual appearance can have serious impact on sales” in USA Today. She tells of a financial planner that shows up for a meeting in ripped jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt. She didn’t feel much confidence in him, and took her business elsewhere.

CIO Magazine has an article “Appearance does matter in business.” In it, the role of appearance and the perception of leadership is discussed. Leaders need to invest time, energy and money in their appearance (including their dress) and have to also watch their body language. If you “radiate authority” success may follow.

What impresses you in the first few seconds after meeting the other party in a negotiation?

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