Why First Impressions Really Count
We’re programmed by evolution to judge people on their appearance. It’s a survival mechanism. You will be judged by your appearance, whether you like it or not. After all, you judge people by their appearance, don’t you?
When you get on a train, tram or bus and it’s pretty full, so you will have to sit next to someone, you look around, who do you decide to sit next to? The guy with the big beard, tattoos and long hair wearing leather, or the smiling man in the fashionable suit and neatly cut hair?
Who knows what lurks beneath these exteriors? But we’ve already made judgments about these people without them saying a word.
Sociolinguist Professor Albert Mehrabian first measured the impact of the three elements that comprise our face-to-face encounters with others: verbal, vocal, and nonverbal. His research revealed that only 7% of our initial impact comes from our verbal message, the actual content of what we have to say. Another 38% of the impact comes from our vocal qualities — tone, rate, inflection. But 55%, comes from the visual — our facial expressions, body language and other nonverbal qualities.
Research shows that people form fairly lasting impressions about your intelligence, success, confidence, competence, physical fitness, professionalism, your salary and even which newspaper you read, within the first 10 – 30 seconds of seeing/meeting you. Unfortunately, many people don’t look beyond their initial assumptions about you to discover the intelligent, capable and interesting person you are.
Here’s the significance of this research. It’s not that your verbal content doesn’t matter. It’s that if you don’t look and sound confident or credible, then it doesn’t matter whether you are or not because few people will actually listen to what you have to say if your image is not congruent with your message. So why not choose to make the best possible first impression?
7 Keys to Creating a Positive First Impression:
- Dress Well – it’s the first thing people see about you. What you’re wearing, how it fits, how neat and clean it is, whether it’s appropriate for the situation, whether it looks good on you — these are just some of the factors that combine to create an impression about you in someone’s mind. This is something you have complete control over.
- Great Bag – what you carry counts – an overstuffed bag falling to pieces will make someone think that you’re disorganised. Be aware of the bag you carry (this includes wallets for men).
- Good Posture – makes you look more confident – but also look relaxed – being too straight (especially when sitting) makes you look uptight or nervous.
- Eye Contact – nothing is more detrimental to your credibility and trustworthiness than your inability to make eye contact. If you can’t look at someone when you’re talking to them, at best you might be perceived as uncomfortable, shy, or unfamiliar with what you’re talking about. At worst, people will assume you’re lying. And if you don’t look at someone who’s talking to you, then the signal you’re sending is that you’re not listening.
- Smile – a smile draws people to you like a magnet. Imagine you’re at a party – who do you want to talk to – the smiling person who looks like they’re having fun or the unsmiling person who looks miserable? If you don’t smile because you haven’t got the best teeth – go and see a dentist – this is really important.
- Body Language – your body sends signals, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unconsciously. Picture the following body movements: a wink, a shrug, rolling of the eyes, a frown, massaging the temples, a slouched posture and a big yawn. There is a meaning conveyed in each of those gestures. Communication can occur without any words being spoken.
- Firm handshake- people universally are put off by limp handshakes, yet how many people are guilty of them or of the killer crush. Place your hand palm-to-palm with the other person’s, grasp firmly and shake, but don’t grip too hard and squeeze all life out of their fingers. Just remember a delicate handshake is not in for women to either give or receive. Think about this – a soft wimpy handshake indicates you’re a spineless person, whilst the killer crush makes people think you’re overly aggressive.
Don’t get overlooked for that new job or contract, promotion, pay rise or even relationship because you’re not maximising your image, instead learn to play the game and improve your opportunities in life to get exactly what you want. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
© Imogen Lamport 2010
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