First Impressions Matter — Here’s Why

Have you ever ended up friends with someone you didn't like when you first met them? Probably. First impressions aren't always right. Yet, most of the time, if we don't like someone, do we agree to see them again? No. Usually not. Not if we can avoid it, right?!

That's partly why first impressions matter — if someone likes you, they're willing to open their door to you and get to know you. That could mean walking up to talk to you at a party or asking you to come back for a second job interview. It could mean a second date, or an invite to get to know someone outside of work or school.

Moreover, I believe in starting everything on the right footing, simply because it helps to build the right foundation for things to come. If you're starting work at a new company, meeting new people whom you know you'll see again, or you're in the initial stage of a romantic relationship, how people perceive you will lay the foundation for the relationships you form with these people. This foundation will affect everything else that is to come. And if you aren't aware of what signals you're sending out, you can do some serious damages to the relationship before it even happens. Lack of self-awareness can have damaging effects on your career goals, friendships and anything else where personal relationships matter.

Ignorance is not bliss. Imagine completely by accident rubbing people off the wrong way when you first meet them — not even being aware of doing it. If you aren't aware, you can't fix the damage you've done.

There may be kind souls who are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but not everyone works on that premise. Thus, first impressions matter, because we're hardwired to believe in what we see and how we feel about everything. This is particularly so in business because we constantly need to make quick decisions. Think about a job interview, or when making a sales pitch to investors. I'd discussed this in my previous blog post 'Judge. Do you not?' You may click here to read the blog post.

Reflecting on your last first encounter with someone, what do you think was the impression you left behind?

Now, think of someone you've met, and he/she left behind a lasting positive first impression. List some of the elements you noticed that contributed to developing this impression.

So, what are the things that usually make us enjoy someone's company right from the start? Actually, a lot is in the body language — about 90% of communication is non-verbal! However, it also has to do with how people dress, the pitch and tone of their voice, how willing they are to help others (kindness), what we have in common with them and how good they are at listening to us (i.e. care to get to know us and, possibly, understand us).

To create a positive first impression, bear in mind the following:

  • show a willingness to look people in the eye; hold their gaze (but not to the point of having a staring competition — that's just freaky!).
  • have a good, confident, posture.
  • genuine smile.
  • offer a confident (firm) handshake.
  • keep your body language open and inviting (i.e. not too much crossing of arms and legs, or turning away).
  • dress in clothing that's suitable for the occasion and flattering for your figure, face and personality (an accurate reflection of who you are, in other words!).
  • keep your voice loud enough to be heard, but not overly loud or super high pitched.
  • show a willingness to pay attention to what the other person has to say.
  • match and mirror their body language of the person you're speaking with.
  • show politeness, sympathy and understanding; this will come across in the words you use, your body language, the tone of your voice and the actions you take towards those around you.

Next, let's break down the anatomy of creating a lasting and positive first impression.

1. Confident and Open (Inviting) Body Language

Even if you don't feel confident, practising confident body language can increase your self-esteem and make you feel better about yourself. A large percentage of communication and how people perceive you comes from your body language. Your body language reveals your true feelings or intentions, as well as your level of self-confidence.

Try working on your posture by walking with a straight back; your chest slightly forward (but not like a rooster amongst hens …that's going overboard!). In ballet, they always say to imagine a string attached to your head and pulling you upwards. Try imaging that while you're out walking, as well as just pottering about the house — after a while, it becomes second nature.

Likewise, sitting up straight, as opposed to slouching, will give a more alert and serious impression.

What's also important, is to show that you're open and willing to speak to people — avoid crossing your arms and legs, or turning away from someone (not even with your feet!). Of course, you can sometimes cross your legs, just beware you don't shut yourself off, but rather, continue to be open towards the people/person you're speaking with.

When people feel comfortable with one another, they automatically start to match and mirror each other's body language. For example, if someone you're speaking to crosses their legs, you might automatically do the same without noticing. It's not something we think about, it's something we naturally do when we bond, or feel bonded, with someone.

To make someone relax in your presence, you can start to match and mirror some (not all) of their body language. You can also simply look out for whether someone is matching and mirroring you, or not. If they are, it means they feel fairly comfortable in your presence.

2. Smiling

A positive attitude does affect how people perceive you. People are drawn to positivity like bees to honey. By putting on your beautiful smile, people will be much more likely to enjoy your company.

Also, smiling is a sign of friendliness. Just as you won't go up to a dog that's barking and growling, you won't go up to a human who looks like they will bite your head off if you approach them.

3. Good Eye Contact

Have you ever tried speaking to someone whose eyes are constantly scanning the room? Or who is looking down on the ground/table? Imagine talking to someone whose eyes keep flickering when you're trying to make eye contact? How did that make you feel?

In my business etiquette workshop, one of the activities requires participants to display negative body language and no eye contact when talking to their partner. The person on the receiving end of such behaviours always says that they feel ignored and uncared for. It makes them feel insignificant, and this is a major barrier to effective communication and relationship building.

Eye contact creates trust, and it may not come naturally for most of us. Good eye contact is about maintaining the right balance. When someone is talking, eye contact with that person shows that we are paying attention. When communicating, keep the eye contact for about 5 to 10 seconds. After that, look away shortly to gather your thoughts or to think about what was being said and reestablish the eye contact again.

Making good eye contact is an art that is difficult to master, especially for the introverts. Nonetheless, practising how to maintain eye contact when communicating with others will help us get better each time.

4. Politeness, Kindness and Listening

Remember my last blog? Where I described how people are always looking for warmth in others? Assessing if they'll treat others nicely, or not? If you're polite, people will notice. Good manners are associated with the good character of a person.

If you exhibit kindness and niceties to the people around you, people will feel comfortable in your company. That old saying about people judging their date based on how they treat the waitress still holds true — people do that. And for a good reason — if the person they are with is kind to people they have no reason to be kind to, they are probably a decent person. If, on the other hand, they're only kind to people they want something from, then they're probably not such a pleasant person by the end of the day.

Furthermore, people are looking to see if you're interested in them and understand them. Are you listening to what they're saying? Is your tone of voice showing you're empathising with them?

5. Being Dressed for the Occasion.

Dressing for the occasion is my forte, as this is what I have taught for the past 12 years. That said, I do not believe in dressing up to impress others. I believe in dressing for the occasion as a form of self-respect, as well as a sign of respect for whoever is hosting the event. If you're dressed inappropriately, it can be embarrassing and awkward for you and others you're with. It may also exhibit a lack of thoughtfulness to the host/hostess of the event or party.

For example, imagine that you show up for an interview for a new job in an office wearing shorts and a t-shirt when it's the kind of place where people wear suits and dresses to work. Do you show that you respect their dress code? Do you show you care about the job? Do you show you care about the company?

No matter what the occasion, you can keep your personal style, you just have to keep it within the boundaries of the dress code.

On occasions where there is no particular dress code (such as a date night at a local restaurant that isn't particularly fancy), people appreciate if you make an effort and wear something you consider nice.

6. Use Your Voice Correctly

If you can't be heard, people will give up trying to listen. If you're always speaking, or speaking very loudly, people will also give up listening. A good conversation is a two-way street. It gets difficult when one person dominates a conversation. Though it's incredibly hard to realise when you're doing it at the moment. Even if you don't consider yourself much of a conversationalist, feeling too nervous or getting overly excited over your favourite topic may lead you to dominate a conversation. Beware!

The meaning of your message comes through in the tonality of your voice. If you say something nice, but you're using a sarcastic tone of voice, people will pick up on the tone, more so than the words you use.

Just as your tone of voice has to match your words, the gestures you use and your facial expression when speaking have to match your words. Imagine saying "you're right" while smiling and nodding, versus saying "you're right" while rolling your eyes. One implies you actually mean the other person is right, the latter implies you're being sarcastic.

Communication is so much more than the words we use — people pick up a lot more on your body language and your tone of voice, more than the words you used. If you're looking to establish meaningful relationships with others — to show that you are who you say you are and mean what you say, then you have to align your body language and your tone of voice with your words.

In Closing…

It's not rocket science to create a positive first impression, but it does take some work if you've slipped into bad habits. And the truth is, we all do at times. Being present and showing who you truly are, while also respecting others, and showing you care about those around you are the biggest keys to making a great first impression. You do that through your body language, your eye movements, your tone of voice, the language you use and the actions you take.

I hope you find the tips I'd shared useful. There may be areas we find challenging or difficult to manage. Trust me when I say this, the more you practice, the better you'll get.

Thank you for spending time with me once again. May you be blessed with an abundance of opportunities, collaborations and meaningful relationships to come.

With love of love,

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