Mountain or Molehill? It Depends.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Over at Ask a Manager, Alison Green fields a question from a manager who is concerned that an otherwise excellent employee is sometimes making a bad impression in some client-facing situations. Specifically, the coworker sometimes comes in with hair that is wet, although pulled back into a ponytail, and sometimes meets with clients this way.

The manager is concerned, but both wonders whether the concern is well-founded, and, if so, how best to bring up the issue.

In my (all non-office) professional life, I have never seen anyone show up for work with dipping-wet hair, but have seen women show up for work with long, not-quite-dry hair. It never occurred to me that this could be a problem, but Green shows that it could be:

Image by Lexie Janney, via Unsplash, license.
If she weren't public-facing and meeting with clients, I'd say it depends on the vibe of the office (how casual vs. businessy you are) and how wet her hair looks. If it's pulled back and just a little damp, that's not going to strike most people as nearly as unprofessional as if it's full-on wet. But for meeting with clients, it's reasonable to say she needs to have dry or at least nearly dry hair. That's where I'd focus -- "Jane, when you have client meetings, please make sure you're not coming in with wet hair. It'll read as unprepared or even unprofessional to a lot of people, and you're neither of those things." [bold added]
This is both very perceptive and extremely well-put, and shows why I follow this blog. In trading relationships, such as professional situations, it is important to keep the best selfish interests of both parties in mind, and Green is a master of this: The clients don't know this worker as well as her boss does, so she needs to be very careful to convey professionalism. Likewise, the boss needs the worker to understand why the wet hair could be an issue and to know that she is making a reasonable request that will help everyone on the team and further the business relationship with the client.

Framing the advice in terms of how the grooming can be misinterpreted and how it might wrongly hold the worker back is ingenious because it both appeals to the rationality of the worker and to her self-interest. Rather than some arbitrary rule she'll have to remember, she has advice she will want to use.

-- CAV

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