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Putting Your Best Foot Forward

By heath - Posted on 29 March 2006

It is not uncommon at work to get an email that a customer is coming through to view our operations. We are advised to clean up our work areas and look tidy. Many times the email includes an admonition to "put your best foot forward."

As you might imagine, I bristle a little at this thought. I think, "How hypocritical!" I should just act the way I normally act. Corporate America is so fake. We have to put on a show for the customers, but we can slack off the rest of the time. I smugly reflect how if I ran the company things would be different.

However, when I look for evidence to this effect, I must admit I come up wanting. While I do try to be as honest as possible, I do, at times fail. Many times I hold my tongue when I should speak because I am afraid of what others might think. I am probably the worst at managing my image. I am, and have always been, very conscious about how my actions appear to others. I kick myself when I say something stupid. I am especially irritated when I do so in front of a person I respect or, gasp, with whom I wish to make a good impression.

Nor is this isolated to the public realm; I have recently realized over the past few months how many of the conflicts with my wife are due to my own hypocrisy. Sometimes, I get angry and defensive because I am afraid Courtney will see how I am deficient in some way. Other times, I get angry or defensive because I think she is putting pressure on me to do something I don't really want to do. I don't like the implication that I am a bad husband, so I fight vigorously to not be seen as such. Why not just be honest? More often than not, she didn't even mean to imply that I needed to do something.

So, Is my CEO wrong for asking us to dress up pretty for the customer? I still don't like it, but it appears that I have my own problems to worry about, so I'll just clean up my desk and move on.

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The real question is whether your customers are wrong for associating a neat, tidy, and well-dressed workplace with a company that produces a quality product. But, since the customer can't be wrong, you have to do something silly to balance their assumptions with reality. Around here, software developers are the exception to the rule, and are assumed to be anti-social hermits. So if I wear something nice to work, I get made fun of, and people joke that I must have an interview somewhere at lunch. It's equally frustrating sometimes, although it's nice to be sitting here in a t-shirt and shorts, and not have to prove that I donated to United Way in order to participate in "casual Friday" (do they still do that there?).

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