[IMGCAP(1)]As I complete my last college leadership certificate program courses, I realize more and more how important building credibility is and why your professional appearance helps develop trust. My last class, entitled “Influencing without Authority,” helped us develop the skills for attaining cooperation from supervisors who command resources, information and potentially crucial support, but who are not required to collaborate. I found that the skills I learned in this class are extremely beneficial, especially as I work with my firm’s director group and senior management, and attempt to climb the corporate ladder.

I have learned that persuasion (the process of influencing other’s attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, intentions and motivations) and influence (the power to affect another using a combination of preparation strategies and communication skills to bring about positive change) are both very powerful tools. Both of these tools can be combined with weapons of influence (i.e. liking, authority, commitment and consistency, social proof, etc.) to build trust, credibility, and to influence others. Let’s take a look at a few of them closer.


Generally speaking, we say yes to those we know and like. Liking someone can be based on physical attractiveness, similarity, familiarity and association. So, consider the importance of being well-liked in the office, and treating others with respect. The next time you have to ask for something, consider the relationship you have built with the person you are asking. Take note how easy or difficult it is to get your way based on your existing relationship, and consider how that could change based on how well-liked you are.


People defer to experts. That’s why I recommend that our CPAs use social media tool Linkedin to help position themselves as thought leaders in their industry or niche practice area. That’s also why it’s great for accountants to speak at events and seminars or be sourced in articles and special reports. You need to expose your expertise—don’t assume it’s self-evident!

Authority can also be based on symbols such as titles, clothing and accessories. Ever met a real estate agent with a snazzy luxury car?  Have you been introduced to an executive or CEO with a gorgeous designer handbag or beautifully tailored suit? These items help create the illusion of or support one’s success. They can also help build and enhance credibility.

Commitment and consistency

From Wikipedia, “If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement.”

Social proof

People follow the lead of others who are similar and will do things that they see other people doing. Uncertainty and similarity maximize this weapon. Social proof is a type of conformity. Most of us are imitators in much of what we do. Some good examples include looking to the best-dressed people in the office or deferring to the latest fashion magazines or celebrities to influence what we wear. We look to others, specifically the “experts,” for guidance, especially when we’re unsure about something.

In addition, ever notice all the ladies in the office carrying the same brand handbag, wearing a certain style shoe, or wearing the same style of outfit? These are examples of social proof.

To learn more about weapons of influence, read up on Robert Cialdini.  He is a Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing, but is best known for his popular book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The book has been listed on The New York Times Business Best Seller List and Fortune Magazine lists Influence in their "75 Smartest Business Books."

All of these blog posts serve as a reminder that being well-dressed in a business environment can be a very powerful tool. When I am wearing something sharp, I feel confident, smart and ready for the day ahead. Combined with top technical skills, a solid education in the fundamentals of your business or industry, and a friendly, respectful and helpful attitude, you can go far in whatever you choose to do.

Remember: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” - Mark Twain

Emily Burns Perryman is a State University of New York Fashion Institute of Technology graduate and started her career in New York City working for companies including Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni, Christian Dior and Jones Apparel Group. She is now e-Marketing Communications Specialist for Freed Maxick CPAs in Buffalo, N.Y., and was named the Association for Accounting Marketing's 2011 "Rookie of the Year." Follow her on Twitter @FreedMaxickCPAs or email her at emily.burns@freedmaxick.com.