A young man has been seriously dating a woman for some time and becomes interested in marrying her. The young man’s mother promises to meet with the girl’s mother to discuss the possibility of marriage. Being a traditional story, this is the practice for wedding engagement in certain cultures. When the two mothers meet, they spend their conversation discussing the weather over a formal but light snack of hot tea and sliced bananas. After a short conversation, the young man’s mother gets up, thanks the woman, and says goodbye. The topic of marriage is never mentioned. The boy’s mother returns home to her son and informs him sadly that the girl’s mother rejected the marriage.
The above is a story commonly told to showcase the vast differences in communication norms among different cultures. People who are raised in low-context cultures – or cultures where significant communication is presented in the non-verbal cues of a conversation – are able to easily understand the conclusion of the above story. On the other hand, people who are raised in high-context cultures – cultures where the context of communication is completely in the spoken word – tended to have more difficulty.
Tea and Bananas
Tying In The Necktie
I want readers to understand how important it is to get the details correct when tying a necktie. So, why start with this seemingly unrelated story? Wherever I go, I am constantly surprised to see how many professionals miss important details with the tie they wear. If I simply provide advice, I am certain the importance will be downplayed or ignored. I began with the story of the tea and bananas to highlight the fact that humans are capable of picking up on the most subtlest of clues whether we like it or not. We do not need to live or work in specific cultures for this to apply, either. If you want proof, try wearing a suit and necktie to work tomorrow (I assume you normally dress casually). You will almost certainly get some puzzled reactions from your colleagues. The fact is, even without making obvious non-verbal gestures, we make statements all the time whether intentionally or unintentionally with subtle non-verbal details.
Consider the necktie. It is practically the only accent piece worn by men in formal occasions. With companies being much more relaxed in the corporate dress code, it only is the rare formal occasion that men would even need to wear a tie these days. Yet, how often have we seen our colleagues wear drab and predictable colors with a knot that is not quite centered and a crease that almost seems accidental? There is a reason why there are so many different patterns, colors, and quality of materials used in neckties. If you choose to wear a necktie every day or only for a special occasion, make sure that everything about it resonates with your personality and style. Think of it this way – the modern day necktie was popularized hundreds of years ago in the royal French court to honor the Croatian allies during the 30 Years War. The tradition withstood the test of time and flourished to the formal accent piece that is worn today. It is prudent to acknowledge the importance of getting the details correct when we so choose to wear it.
Having said all this about neckties, I acknowledge that a tie doesn’t make a person great or define who he is, no matter how well it is worn. This is about being impeccable with the subtle details in everything we do. The reason why I highlight the necktie is to emphasize that even something as small and seemingly insignificant as a necktie is rooted in rich history and significance. When we are impeccable with the subtle, those who know what to look for, take note. Those who don’t, can’t place their finger on the reasons, but they sense that something is “different” with you. In all cases, it results in people taking pause. When people take pause, they suspend judgment. When they suspend judgment, it opens the door for us to influence. And this influence is founded in a rare discipline – a cornerstone of effective leadership.