‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is stock advice for children, yet as noted by journalist Abel Raj, physical appearance influences perception and is vital when we want to make a positive impression. One study, published in the journal SAGE, found evidence that our initial perception of people continues to affect the way we see them, even after we interact with. First impressions count in the work context because they affect the extent to which we perceive someone as trustworthy. We can decide whether or not to pursue a business contact depending on our initial instinct, and we have very little information other than their personal appearance or the look of their office when it comes to making that call.

Your office reflects who you are

The interiors of your office should make your clients feel like they can count on your professionalism. If you are in an industry like design, advertising, or art, your interiors should be modern and sleek, with touches of sophistication. Keep clients comfortable and warm with touches such as modern lighting and heating, replacing furniture such as rustic chimneys with cutting-edge double-glass fireplaces and standard lamps with sophisticated pendant lights. Color is also key; your interiors should be in sync with your logo, communications style, and website. Find your inspiration in top Malaysian companies like Time Dotcom, whose hip office features open workspaces, brightly hued furniture, and gorgeous lacquered reading desks. Equally cool is Shell, with its beanbag-filled ‘inspiration hub’, or Agoda with its futuristic dome-covered meeting spots. These companies’ respective design choices may differ but what they all have in common is an impactful way of saying exactly what they stand for through their visionary interiors.

Professional business attire is key

A fascinating article by Hugh Ujhazy highlighted the vibrant nature of business attire in Malaysia. Multiculturalism is the key, he says, to subtle differences that mark one’s individuality. Even if a business suit is called for, there are ways to express your individuality and innovation. Think a pair of designer cufflinks, a herringbone business jacket, or a slim-fitting suit in an unexpected hue such as a lighter shade of maroon. Loafers, vivid ties, and a French designer briefcase look serious yet cutting-edge. This freedom is a welcome relief indeed for those who wish to present their best self without skimping on sartorial flair or personality.

A good smile is key

Being able to smile confidently is key at networking and social events, but also at business meetings. Research has found that issues such as tooth shade and missing teeth can significantly impact the first impression other people have of us. Attractive smiles, meanwhile, are related to positive personality traits such as warmth, calmness, extroversion, and low anxiety. If dental issues have been bothering you, there are many quick solutions such as four-in-one implants and other options that may cost less than you think.

Using the right body language

Body language – the non-verbal cues you use to communicate with others – should be a priority when doing business. Looking business associates straight in the eye, greeting them with a firm handshake, and avoiding blocking body language (such as arm crossing) are key. Body language is half of all communication so use it to your advantage. Mirror the position of an important colleague, deliver your messages with a kind expression, and avoid leaning your chin on your hands when someone is speaking – it shows a lack of interest.

Your office, dress sense, and smile should be considered investments in your business career. Finely tuning each will not only impress clients but also give you a boost of confidence. In an ideal world all that matters would be ‘what lies beneath the surface’, but why not step into one that is vibrant, dynamic, and inviting, every day of your working life?