Ask The Experts

Career Q&A: How to look more approachable

Our image guru Wendy teaches a training executive how to turn from stepmother to belle.

“People say I look like Cinderella’s stepmother!” How to look more approachable

Dear Image Guru,

I don’t know if I’m overly sensitive, but my superiors say I have the face of a stepmother, which, I think, is a more gentle way of saying I look hostile and unapproachable. Honestly, I don’t agree with this. Just because I don’t have the face of an insipid girl, doesn’t mean that I am weak and need help. Just because I don’t lunch with others, doesn’t mean I am a hermit. Is it so important to appear to be friendly all the time? However, as much as I don’t agree with people stereotyping me, I think this might affect my career. Is there any other way for me to look approachable apart from having my face reconstructed to look more fairy-godmother like?

Marge Lim IT training executive

Dear Marge,

If you see a man who looks like a homeless vagabond on the street, does it mean he is not untrustworthy and you can make him your next BFF (best friend forever)? You and I know that it doesn’t happen in real life. We live in a fast-paced world where instant judgment is formed based on first impressions. How you look, sound or behave will determine how people react towards you. “People never care about you until they know how much you care.” - John C. Maxwell So what if you are a tech genius? Or that you are Nobel Prize winner? If you are not approachable and not seen to be a team player, you will eventually have everyone ostracising you. It's not a nice workplace to be at when you know you are not being welcomed, is it? Your superiors have pointed this out. Take the hint.

And no, you don’t need to go through plastic surgery to appear approachable. It would make a big difference if you just follow these five steps:

1) Smile It is scientifically proven to make you look younger. And, if you have not been smiling much at the office, try this test. Start smiling at everyone you come in contact with. This is what they will think of you in the next three days: 1st Day – Weird. 2nd Day – Why the sudden good mood? 3rd Day – Perhaps she has changed? When you glow with happiness, you will notice that people’s reactions towards you will also change.

2) Soften your eye contact A twinkle in your eye is worth a million unspoken words. Practise smiling with your eyes. Soften your eye expression and make your eyes smile. Get in front of a mirror and practise smiling without using your mouth. You will see an instant difference!

3) Let down your barriers Stop hugging yourself. If you sit or stand with your arms and legs folded, people may believe that you do not wish to be approached. Let go of your arms and keep your hands empty. Angle your body TOWARDS people. Not away.

4) Initiate small talk To break your colleagues’ preconceived idea of you, it is now time to take the first step to approach others. Nothing will make you look more outgoing and approachable than actively seeking out people and talking to them.

5) Admit your flaws You are not perfect. You don’t have to be, and you can’t also be right all the time. Have the humility and courage to admit your mistakes. It is your imperfection that makes you human. When people know you are comfortable poking fun at yourself, your approachability will increase tenfold.

Wendy Lee

President – MABIC (Malaysia Association of Brand & Image Consultants), professional image consultant, director of Chapter One BrandImage Institute (COBIN) –, columnist for The Star,,

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