Here comes a lengthier version of my musings about perfume in a career context that led to the article in Swedish business paper Dagens Industri.

The main point that I want to make is this: Scent is one of the many tools that we can use to create good conditions for communication.

This is the main principle behind why I think that the perfumes (and scents in general) that we use at work are so interesting. This has nothing to do with “trying to smell like a leader”, as in putting an olfactory mask on. Nor is it about manipulation of situations or our image. It is about being aware of how scents are linked to our brain and therefore affect our perception of ourselves, of situations and of others.

Let’s proceed: the right scent in the right context can strengthen your professional communication and thus position by adding definition to your message about who you are and what you want. For a person already conscious of their personal brand it is only natural to also have either a signature scent or better still, a fragrance wardrobe.

An interest in perfumes is sometimes unfortunately associated with an interest in fashion, cosmetics etc. This leads to underestimation of scent as a powerful communication tool. Olfactory perception, our sense of smell, is particular. Olfactory impressions travel directly to the brain’s emotional and memory centers, which in turn affects both how we feel and perceive things – and how we are perceived by others. This happens not only in the moment, but also afterwards when we create memories. How you smell will affect the associations someone has with you when they remember you. Now tell me this does not matter in a professional context. Just think of job interviews! Or negotiations. Or your first day as CEO meeting with your key stakeholders.

With a conscious choice of scent, you can use this to your advantage. Your scent can clarify who you are, and reinforce the message you want to get across as well as the associations you want to evoke. In the same way that your voice, posture and clothing affect how others see you, the perfume you wear will make a difference. A positive one if you invest some effort.

A signature scent or a fragrance wardrobe?

Some people find a perfume that feels like the only one they can imagine wearing. Sometimes this lasts a few years, sometimes a lifetime. But let’s admit it, most people don’t. Sticking to a perfume that feels “ok” because you are unsure of what to look for or scared to try new things doesn’t count. Finding a signature scent is not an easy thing to do. Until you find one I really do recommend composing a fragrance wardrobe of say three to five perfumes for a start. Allow yourself to use different perfumes at work and at home because that will let you go all in with the various types of scents that attract you and explore (or define) more sides of your personality. Special perfumes are not generic or random. Adapt your fragrance to the needs of different situations and what you want to convey about yourself in them.

The scent of a leader
As a leader it is important to be clear. Nobody follows a confused guide. Your scent is one of the signals you can use to communicate who you are and how you want others to relate to you. A boss who has a very formal appearance but smells of summer vacation makes a confusing impression. Another example of olfactory failure is wearing a perfume that is too heavy and tranquilizing in a situation where your role is to be someone who boosts energy.

In a professional context, it’s not just a question of smelling well. There are thousands of great smelling perfumes and people. Someone who makes the right decisions will benefit from smelling right. Scent is a tool. It can improve conditions for communication, remember? Reinforce what you want to convey about your message and yourself by using the right fragrance. Choose a fragrance that works for you just like your other attributes do.

Risks with perfume failure

– Creates confusion
– Sending out the wrong signals
– Distraction from your message
– Negative associations
– Affect energy in the wrong way

Potential with the right perfume

– Extra definition
– Memorability
– Enhanced message
– Emotional values added to intellectual content
– Affect energy in a tactic way

Confusion or contrast?
In situations where it is important to be clear, concise and concrete confusion is seldom good. Avoid sending out confusing signals by mistake in important contexts. There is however another way to look at it. Attention can be caught by using disruption in the form of a contrast. A conscious use of contrast between fragrance and other attributes can create a very interesting effect. This is something that is interesting to experiment with and I encourage it. An informal minimalistic outfit with a complex perfume, an feminine look and a masculine fragrance, vintage and modern synthetic notes. You can create great effects. Again, this depends on who you are and what your professional context is all about. It is not black and white. You have to look at who you are, your context(s) and needs. There is no generic professional perfume wardrobe.

My point, again, is to inspire you to make more conscious choices and explore the communicative potential of scents. To see how they can convey different aspects of you and what this can add to different situations. Go explore, have fun!