In a perfect world, friendships, relationships and business contacts would all develop naturally and blossom exactly how you'd like, but that's not the world we live in. In reality, we're all busy people, and relationships take work — work that sometimes slips our mind. Rather than leave it all to chance, here are a few things that can help you leave a great first impression, and form that into a lasting relationship.
How First Impressions Work
People often say "you never get a second chance to make a first impression", and that's actually quite true — which is why it's so important to start on the right foot. In fact, one popular study showed that those impressions can form in just a few seconds:
Consider one study in which untrained subjects were shown 20- to 32-second video-taped segments of job applicants greeting interviewers. The subjects then rated the applicants on attributes such as self-assurance and likability. Surprisingly, their assessments were very close to those of trained interviewers who spent at least 20 minutes with each applicant. What semblance of a person—one with a distinct appearance, history and complex personality—could have been captured in such a fleeting moment?
Not only that, but after they're formed, those impressions become pretty set in stone. PsychCentral notes that even if you were to contradict someone's first impression of you, it would only apply in that particular context. So, if you had a bad interview with your new boss, don't expect to change his perception of you too easily. You may have been very likable at the office's Christmas party, for example, but when you step back into the office environment his first impression will still reflect how he thinks of you (though he'll probably like you more in the context of office parties). So, you want to make sure you get it right on that first meeting, since that impression can be hard to turn around.
How to Make Sure Your First Impression Is a Good One
So, knowing that, how do you make the best first impression possible? Everyone's different, and while you don't want to be too formulaic, there are definitely a few things you'll want to keep in mind that should universally help show you in a positive light.
Be On Time: If this first impression is to be made at a scheduled meeting - -like a job interview, perhaps — tardiness will not work in your favour. Do whatever it takes to be on time. CareerBuilder.com suggests arriving 5-10 minutes early — any earlier than that and the person you're meeting might feel rushed and you might look desperate. If you're early, just stop off at a nearby coffee shop to collect your thoughts.
Dress and Groom Yourself Accordingly: Also among the obvious is to make sure you look presentable whenever you meet someone new. That means dressing up for a job interview, or putting on nice, clean, situation-appropriate clothes for social situations. It isn't difficult and it doesn't have to cost you much, either, so there's no excuse for wearing the same clothes you wore to mow the lawn today. When in doubt, err on the side of more formal. Being underdressed is worse than being overdressed. Photo by buddawiggi.
Be Aware of Your Body Language: Your body language says a whole lot on a first meeting. If you're nervous, you're probably going to look more introverted or disinterested than you actually are. Smile, try to keep from fidgeting, and adopt an "open" posture — that means no crossed arms or crossed legs. A nice tilt of the head can also be the difference between looking bored and actually being interested. If all that sounds like too much to think about at once, personal development weblog The Positivity Blog recommends you do one thing: just act like you're meeting a good friend.
If you just imagine that the person you have just met and are talking to is one of your best friends you'll probably adjust unconsciously and start to smile, open up your body-language to a very friendly and warm position and reduce any nervousness or weirdness in your tone of voice and body language. Don't overdo it though, you might not want to hug and kiss right away.
MSN offers another helpful tip: mirror the body language of the person you're talking to. Generally, that should help you capture the tone of the meeting in your own body language. You don't want to go overboard, obviously — no Groucho Marx impressions, please — but watching them can provide some hints. While you're at it, you'll probably want to check out the formula for the scientifically perfect handshake. Since it's the first thing you usually do when meeting someone, it can have a big impact on their first impression of you.
Use Their Name: Find a time to use the person's name in conversation. Again, you don't want to overdo it and say their name at the end of every sentence, but a few uses will not only make the meeting more personable, but it'll help you remember their name for later on.
Don't Talk About Yourself Too Much: Job interviews may be somewhat exempt from this rule, but generally, you want to be careful of taking over the conversation. Sociologist Charles Derber calls this "conversational narcissism", and you probably don't even realise that you're doing it:
The quality of any interaction depends on the tendencies of those involved to seek and share attention. Competition develops when people seek to focus attention mainly on themselves; cooperation occurs when the participants are willing and able to give it.
I highly recommend you read up on conversational narcissism over at weblog The Art of Manliness — they've done a good job of summarising some of Derber's views. People love talking about themselves, and if you can strike a good balance between them and you during a conversation, they're likely to form a more positive impression and find you charming. Photo by bpsusf.
Don't Be Afraid to Show Your Flaws: While you don't want to tell someone your whole life's story (especially the more intimate details), you don't need to look perfect. Showing some of your little flaws will not only make you look honest, but you'll look a little less robotic, too. Plus, if you're in a job interview, you won't perform the fatal flaw of presenting "fake weaknesses".
Be Prepared: Lastly, remember that first impressions can happen anywhere, even when you don't expect it. These rules don't just apply to premeditated job interviews; they apply to everyone you meet, whether it be at a social gathering or just a trip to the grocery store. As such, make sure you always carry yourself as you would in those situations. Otherwise, you never know what you might miss out on. This is also a good point to make sure your internet personality matches the one you'd like to project.
Make That Impression Last
The last step, of course, is keeping up that good impression. Whether you're turning that new acquaintance into a business contact, friend or your boss, there are a few things you can do to make them remember you fondly.
Keep a Database of Contacts: It's a sad fact of life, but a lot of us are very "out of sight, out of mind" — if someone isn't a close friend or coworker, you can easily forget about them and that relationship will fizzle. I usually separate different groups of people into different databases, too — my Google contact list is mostly personal friends and family, while work contacts stay in a completely separate address book so they don't get mixed up. I also make sure to add new people as soon as I get their business cards, with a few notes on where and how I met them, when applicable. These databases do two things: they help you remember who those acquaintances are so you don't seem forgetful, and for the closer friends, they help you remember to contact them if you haven't seen them in awhile. Which brings us to the next step:
Touch Base Regularly: Once you've got a good database going, make sure you keep in contact with those people. Again, technology can help a lot with this: set up calendar reminders for regular phone calls or text messages, and use social networking to keep up with older friends and acquaintances. Every week or so, go through your contacts and see if there are any friends or family members you haven't talked to in a while. You don't need to go crazy — not everyone will appreciate an hour-long impromptu phone calls — but a simple Facebook message asking what's going on in their life can mean a lot to some people. Obviously, the form of communication depends on the person; your grandma would probably prefer some more direct interaction. Photo by Scott Raymond.
Reciprocate: This is very important, and is often forgotten in many relationships — both work-related and social. It's easy to get in the "networking" mindset, where every person you meet could be of value to you later on — but don't remember that you are also of value to them. If someone does something for you — whether it's a new acquaintance helping you out with a task at work, or your friend offering up their own talents for you — make sure to ask if there's anything you can do in return. Even if there isn't, they'll remember that you asked.
The key in all of this is showing your appreciation for that other person. Whether you do it in a big way or a small way, they'll remember that you care, and their perception of you will be that much better. Never forget any of the "first impression" tips, either — just because you form a closer relationship with someone doesn't mean you can stop listening or start being late.
Lastly: Be Realistic
Remember, though, that you don't need to keep up an active relationship with everyone you meet. Not everyone is an ideal close friend or business contact, so you need to make sure you're spending time on those that actually matter. Quality is more important than quantity, and it doesn't make you a bad person to say that — after all, you can only maintain relationships with so many people at once. All of these things are pretty easy to do, though, so it doesn't hurt to make a good first impression whenever possible. The more you put yourself out there, the more natural it will become.
Got any of your own tips or experiences for making a first impression? Share them with us in the comments.