The impact of uniform clothing has a well documented psychological affect on the behavior, actions and attitudes of those seeing it. Psychologist Dr.Leonard Bickman conducted studies with a research assistant wearing alternate uniform and clothing types to evaluate the co-operation and compliance of citizens based upon perception of power and authority of person wearing it. The results are interesting and perhaps unsurprising and worth an internet look up for those interested.
My story is about just this phenomenon. In my local community I serve as a Volunteer Auxiliary Police Officer and this past Monday (Memorial Day) I was on traffic duty during our village Memorial Day Parade. I had to stop traffic from progressing onto the parade route until after the parade or re-route it around for those that did not want to wait it out. The cars I stop see, to all intents and purposes, a regular cop. The probably don’t notice that I am not armed but simply see the uniform and badge, radio and vest and make a reasonable assumption. Drivers are usually not happy about their journey being interrupted and once stopped, lower down their windows with an expression of irritation and or frustration, sometimes anger (usually the older generation, in my experience).
At this point I begin to speak and usually start by saying “I am so sorry you have had to stop, the village has this Memorial Day parade to honor the veterans and I am afraid you are not going to be able to use this street until after the parade has passed”… or words to that effect. None of this is heard however and invariably the first thing out of the drivers mouth is a version of “Oh my where are you from” or “Well you are not from round here are you”……
What you have to know is that I live is a small rural Wisconsin community and those of us with pronounced accents are not as common as might be the case in the larger cities. As a Brit abroad you get used to the accent comments but what is interesting to me here is how the perception created by the uniform is immediately changed by the sound of my accent, to the extent that it disarms and or confuses the individual to varying degrees.
In the Mandt System we train many staff who are required to wear uniforms and we talk about the uniform being a tool that works both for and against us in building healthy relationships in our workplaces and among the individuals we serve. What my experience shows me is that exposure to the human side of me makes the uniform all but disappear and often the emotions present at the initial lowering of the window are replaced by more open and appropriate behavior. Sometimes the uniform may simply be a name badge or a desk placed between you and another person. We never know what is going on with individuals at any moment in time or in their histories so always counsel to never make assumptions about the minimal impact our appearance may or may not have.
And likewise as the uniformed worker, try and see the person first and the behavior second as this may allow the human connection to occur from which better outcomes will tend to flow.
Simon Kemp – SVP Business Development