First impressions make a difference when the goal is winning a new customer, 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.
4. Most first impressions are electronic. They’re the flip side of face-to-face first impressions. And they’re just as important, right at the top when it comes to how you’re perceived, whether by email, social media, blogs, a website, or on the phone. And talk about indelible; they’re etched in the Internet.
Just because you might not be looking someone in the eye, your electronic first impressions are just as lasting, and may even reveal more about you. Here are thoughts about making a good first impression electronically:
- Quick response. Even though you may expect to hear from others quickly, do you always do it yourself, other than texts? How often do you “follow up” when you haven’t heard from someone? As timely a response as possible; immediately is best, but certainly within 24 hours. It sends the message that you respect those who communicate with you.
- Send complete messages. “Tuesday will be fine.” What’s missing is the time and place. It’s all-too-common. You’ll make a good impression if you think your message through so it’s complete and doesn’t leave someone guessing what you meant.
- Slow down. Since so many messages are sent on the run to catch a plane, grab an Uber, get to a meeting, fix dinner, or take a shower, many such messages are sloppy—misspellings, missing words, lousy grammar, cryptic, confusing, and even unintelligible. Is this a person you want on your team? This has all the makings of a disorganized individual, who doesn’t seem to care how they come across.
- Think attitude. With the Internet, there’s no place to hide. Bad attitudes come through, whether sarcasm, sniping, being disrespectful, flip, or expressing anger.
The best way to make the right impression—to show who you really are—is by focusing on those you want to influence. In other words, every day is first impression day.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales Ideas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.