First impressions make a difference when the goal is winning a new client, moving up the career ladder, gaining acceptance to a group or, of course, attracting a new special friend.
That’s a lot to ask when some experts say first impressions lock-in in the first three to seven seconds. A Princeton University researcher drops it to less than one second.
To make first impressions even more daunting, some claim first impressions are indelible, with no second chances. To put it bluntly, first impressions are a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
That’s one view, a frightening one at that, but it’s not the only one (thank goodness). Here are some thoughts on how to avoid falling into the fatal first impressions trap.
1. Don’t believe nonsense. Yes, first impressions are important, whether it’s a prospective customer, a job interview, networking, or making a presentation.
The desire to make the right first impression creates even more pressure. And that’s why there’s a flood of books, blogs, seminars, and webinars offering endless advice on how to get it right the first time.
We are told to be ourselves, wear a big smile, dish up small talk, have a firm handshake, exude confidence, be positive, show sincerity, watch our body language, wear the right clothes, listen carefully, turn off the phone, be interested and interesting, and, of course, be on time. And that’s just for starters.
But running through every first impression success list is a clear message: If you want to make the right impression, don’t be yourself. Put on an act, wear a mask and become someone you aren’t. It’s a disturbing message, one that should make anyone feel uncomfortable. That’s not all; it’s nonsense. And it’s why so many first impressions crash and burn — people trying to present themselves as something they’re not.
2. First impressions aren’t about us. “Whoa! How in the world can a first impression be about anyone but me?” Even though it may sound a bit crazy, it’s the huge mistake people make. It’s all about how they look, dress, shake hands, talk, hold a fork, and smile. While these deserve some attention, they’re minor issues.
The fatal first impression trap is in trying to be something we’re not, saying what we don’t believe, acting as if we’re someone else, exaggerating our experience, enhancing our skills, and talking too much. It’s a formula for failure, not success.
Believe it or not, first impressions aren’t about us and they aren’t about trying to impress others. The task is not getting others to think you’re someone you’re not. Such deception never works. It sends confusing and conflicting messages that can come back to bite us, when others discover that we’re whom we said we were.
3. Get them talking. If you let someone put you on the spot, then you feel a need to come up with answers you think (or hope) they’re looking for. The chances are you’ll lose that guessing game.
Instead, the task — which is utterly simple — is engaging those we want to influence by asking questions. The goal is to get them talking. When this happens, the results can be positive. The more they talk, the more positive is the impression they have of you. Nothing makes people feel better than having an opportunity to express themselves. When you let them, it influences how they feel about you.
It’s all about asking the right questions. “I liked her. She really asked good questions.” You’ve probably heard a similar comment after interviewing someone. It’s usually said with enthusiasm and sends the message that the person made a good impression. To make the right first impression, engaging others makes it happen.
Next page: How to make a good first impression electronically
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