Everyone knows that a good first impression matters, but why is that, and more importantly how can we avoid unintentionally giving the wrong impression? Chances are we’ve all blundered through situations. When we’re young our inappropriate dress, behaviour or comments are put down to youth. When we’re older, or in a senior position, things can become more strained and less forgiving.
Actually the forgiveness aspect of our lives can sometimes work against us. In general it can be said that our behaviour is modified on the basis of feedback. We learn through observation. Sometimes we are told, sometimes we overhear, and we make adjustments to our presentation style accordingly. But we are also brought up to be socially skilled. We understand how other people are feeling. We know that some situations are more difficult than others and so we apply something called tact. Tact is mutually beneficial as it saves face but it can also blur true impressions. How many times have we wriggled out of an intensely boring encounter by tactfully finding a plausible excuse?
First Impressions Matter
Of all the ways our impressions matter it is first impressions that are the most sticky in terms of effect. Once we’ve imparted a first impression it can be very hard to shake off. The fact that you are a likeable, honest and trustworthy person can be undermined by an opening comment or even your facial expression and mannerisms. A junior employee who is a bit too casual, a bit too, ‘we’re all equal’ can very quickly find themselves categorized as rude, cocky, over-intimate, whatever.
Okay, it’s a bit of a mine field. But it does no harm to remind ourselves about the important cues that provide positive impressions. Clothing, hair, jewellery, shoes, should be appropriate to environment. Facial expression, posture, voice (tone, pitch, speed, variety) all count. If we were to package this together it maybe boils down to five key issues:
- Show liking and interest in the other person. This is a universal and powerful social skill that is likely to be reciprocated.
- Use a ‘gift’ disclosure. This is about opening yourself and showing your human side. It is not about intimate disclosures but something smaller and either neutral or perhaps slightly humorous.
- If you find the first two a bit of a strain opt for agreeing with the opinions of the other person.
- If even that is a strain then go with body language. This technique is sometimes called ‘stroking’. If you find you can’t agree with their views you maintain interest by listening, keeping eye contact (but not staring as this can be viewed as threatening), and perhaps nodding from time to time. It’s an acceptable neutral stance used, for example, by journalists during interviews.
- Resist the temptation to correct them, even on seemingly minor points such as the correct way to pronounce a word.
You may regard these tips as a form of deception but remember this is all about a good first impression. It’s often said ‘be yourself’ but how helpful is this? The more natural you may have a chance to emerge later but if you let ‘you’ burst on to the scene it may actually give the wrong impression. All social interactions have rules so to increase control over the impression you give it’s important to use what other people expect. They in turn will support your attempts because all social interaction relies on cooperation.