Imagine never having to worry about the first impression you make on others. It’d completely change your experience of life, right?
As it happens, it’s pretty easy to make a great first impression, especially if you are already looking after yourself physically and mentally.
This article covers the basics in what you need to do to ensure that crucial first impact is a positive one.
Why first impressions matter
Your first impression is a decent predictor of your success in everything from finding a partner to achieving your career goals.
Crazily, research has demonstrated that within 34 milliseconds of meeting us, other people have taken a view on things like our trustworthiness and competence. And those conclusions stick unfortunately.
Making your first impression as good as it can be ensures that the opportunities around you stay open and yours for the taking.
First impressions are inaccurate
It’s important to recognise that your first impressions generally aren’t accurate.
Have you ever met a person you initially didn’t like who turned out to be a close friend? I know that has happened to me.
We misguidedly place our trust in our instincts, when often our feelings are to do with fear.
Don’t trust your first impressions of others completely, especially if they are negative.
Plus, we judge people based on criteria outside of their control. (For example, we tend to prefer people who are similar to us.)
The point of this information is that you should use it to treat your first impressions of others with caution.
If someone is making a negative first impression on you, have some empathy. They could be feeling shy or nervous.
Hunt down accurate information about your first impression
I encourage you to try to get some hard data on your first impression.
Try asking a few friends what their early impressions of you were. Get them to be harsh with you!
They probably won’t do it if they see you as being on the sensitive side. If that’s the case, then you’ll have to do your best to guess at the impression you are making from the results you are getting in dating, interviews and life.
It can be disheartening, not to mention frustrating to learn that people are arriving at a skewed perception of you. But it should be encouraging to know that it’s within your power to change that.
Ask your friends for their unfiltered recollections on the first impression you made.
If you can, try get hold of some footage of you speaking with people. It should show you how smiley and animated you are (openness is considered to be attractive).
Once you’ve got a good idea of how you’re being perceived, decide if that is how you want to be perceived. If it’s a no, then hopefully the next section will contain some useful pointers.
Somes dos and don’ts in making a good first impression
The following list is based on what has been discovered through research about the people who make a good first impression.
- DO pay attention to the fixed elements of your first impression. When it comes to first impressions, being on top of your physical health and appearance is probably the most important thing to do. It completely changes your confidence. Sleep well, eat well, move well. It’s a basic.
- DON’T concern yourself with things you can’t control. Beautiful people make a better first impression without having to do anything. That’s a harsh reality. But even if you aren’t beautiful, you can make up for it in how you present and project yourself.
- DO pay attention to your body language. This one is absolutely key to get right. Stand up straight, and avoid clangers like folding your arms in front of your chest.
- DON’T try too hard. It isn’t important that you come off funny or intelligent when you first meet people. It’s much more important that people are comfortable in your company. So focus on doing what you can to make them comfortable. That might mean going out of your way to be friendlier than you usually are.
It isn’t important that you come off funny or intelligent when you first meet people. It’s much more important that people are comfortable in your company.
- DO make a conscious decision about what you are trying to project. This may vary across different settings. For instance, when I am on a date I want to showcase my warmth. That’s less important in a career context, where I am more interested in demonstrating my competence and authority.
- DO speak clearly. People judge you on your voice too. I used to be self-conscious of my lower pitch before discovering it’s associated with confidence and authority. Experiment with varying your pitch, avoid filler words and enunciate.
- DO realise that in order to make a serious change in how you’re perceived, you may need to change your thoughts, beliefs and emotions. How we see ourselves and the world affect what we are projecting in subtle ways. This is not a short term fix, so just recognise you may need to do some deeper work to change your first impression lastingly.
- DO counter any weaknesses caused by something outside of your control. I have a very tall friend who deliberately speaks quieter so as to reduce the intimidating effect he knows he has. This is very smart.
- DO live by the motto that “to be interesting, be interested”.
- DON’T be a sloppy dresser. It’s obvious but if you aren’t feeling confident in what you’re wearing, it’ll affect how you carry yourself.
- DO rotate between making observations (‘it’s awesome in here!’), asking questions (‘have you been here before?’), and giving information about yourself (‘I was here recently’). This is more for informal settings and making a good first impression conversationally.
- DO really listen when you speak to people.
- DO make eye contact and smile. So obvious, I am sure you are doing it already.
- DON’T meet people for the first time if your self-esteem is at a low ebb. Read this article about how to like and love yourself.
As I said in the beginning, it’s simple to make a great first impression. The key is becoming aware of the first impression you make currently.
I’ll wrap up with this inspiring quote from Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. It’s from the very first chapter, called ‘Stand Up Straight with your Shoulders Back’ and it’s basically about how making a great first impression changes what’s available to you in life:
“Attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them – at least the same right as others.
Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.
People, including yourself, will start to assume that you are competent and able (or at least they will not immediately conclude the reverse.) Emboldened by the positive responses you are now receiving, you will begin to be less anxious. You will then find it easier to pay attention to the subtle social clues that people exchange when they are communicating. Your conversations will flow better, with fewer awkward pauses. This will make you more likely to meet people, interact with them and impress them.
Doing so will not only genuinely increase the probability that good things will happen to you – it will also make those good things feel better when they do happen.”