We all want to be liked, it’s part of our human nature – we’re social creatures after all. But, stressing about things we can’t always control, like first impressions might not be worth our time in the end. Do your best to be yourself, stay honest, and have a good time. That will come across if you’re sincere and the other person is that more likely you like you.
- First impressions are a mix of things we can, and things we can’t control. And a lot of it has to do with unconscious bias and previous social experiences you’ve had.
- There are a ton of factors that are part of how you come across. From how you dress to how you speak, and even the things you don’t say out loud.
- While first impressions are incredibly important, there are some things you can do if you messed it up the first time around.
What really are first impressions?
First impressions are the overall idea people make up of us when they meet us for the very first time. They’re key because they determine how trustworthy or competent people think you are. As humans, our basic instinct is to size things up any time we’re faced with something new in order to find potential threats. We need to make a decision around if it can hurt us or not, and we need to do it fast. This is why first impressions are quick, like seconds quick – 7 seconds, to be more exact.
First impressions are influenced by a number of factors like what your face looks like, your vocal inflection, how attractive you are to societal standards, the clothes you’re wearing, and the topics of conversation you bring up. Nonverbal, or more unconscious things, tend to have even more weight than more obvious things. This is because we’re working against the level of bias the observer has.
Do we have any control over how someone else perceives us?
The answer to that is both yes and no. This is because while we can control the explicit impression we give out, there are many factors that can affect the implicit impression people have of us.
For example, did you know that first impressions and what we unconsciously pick up on can depend on the culture you’re in? While in North America you might find that prolonged eye contact and a big smile make you come across as honest and reliable, the same might not apply in Asia. In some Asian cultures, intense eye contact can be seen as rude which is not going to help you be perceived in a positive manner.
What does a bad first impression look like?
As we talked about above, first impressions really depend on who you’re talking to (implicit bias), the environment you’re in, and the culture you’re part of as well.
That said, there are some things that are pretty much universally considered a no-no – regardless of where you are.
- Sharing too many deep things about yourself right away.
- Not making enough, or making too much, eye contact.
- Asking for favors that are too big immediately.
- Talking poorly about someone else.
- Not letting the other person talk.
Can you make up for a bad first impression?
The truth is that Initial impressions are pretty hard to turn around, even if you’re given substantial evidence showing you your initial assessment was wrong. As more of an emotional thought process than a purely logical one, our method of making up our mind doesn’t always make sense. Which means it’s harder to control or change.
First impressions seem to be based more on previous encounters with people more than anything else. That, and how those encounters went. On top of that, you’re also working against childhood conditioning. This is because the type of people and experiences they had growing up can also be a big part of the equation.
All that said, it’s always worth a shot if you really want to change things around. The next time you meet them be sure to come across as empathetic, honest, and kind. The tips in the section below will also apply during second impressions, so they’re worth a read!
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3 Tips for making a good first impression
While great first impressions come to some people naturally, others might need a little more help. The 4 tips below are the insights we learned from this video discussing first impressions. The narrator uses Simu Liu (the newest addition to the Marvel movie franchise, who plays Shang Chi) as a great example of charisma and first impressions done right.
While the video shares both things you should, and shouldn’t do, we’re going to focus on what you should.
This one is pretty obvious but no less important. When you’re talking to someone or when you walk into a room be sure to keep your body language in check. Maintain eye contact (just don’t do it too intensely, look away once in a while) and try to stay still, and actively listen. Another big tip is to keep an open posture. This could look like keeping your arms to your side when you speak and having your chin up and your shoulders relaxed.
Be truly interested
Coming in right off the bat with positive and high energy is a great way to open a conversation. You don’t have to be incredibly intense, but just a little more than the average person. Ask questions to keep the conversation going, and make sure your tone and intonations showcase your interest. Another great tip is to actively look to give a compliment. Now, this isn’t about being fake and just lying. Make the effort to find something you genuinely like about them and let them know.
Use facial expressions
Similar to body language, but more nuanced. Facial expressions are so important that some people dedicate their whole life to studying them. When dealing with first impressions, it’s important to laugh, smile, and try to stay away from neutral or angry expressions. Unless applicable to the conversation, of course. You don’t want to be smiling if someone is sharing a hurtful memory.
Getting People Right (GPR) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional GPR resources below will be useful: