By Michael Heffernan
| with thanks to Tescohealthandwellbeing.com
Monday, April 13, 2015.
Meeting strangers is a big part of everyday life.
While first impressions aren’t always right, they often have a big impact on
how other people behave towards us and so play a key part in relationship
building – whether it’s in work, love or everyday life. The good news is that
anyone can learn how to make that first impression a great one.
What makes a good first
To understand how
impressions are formed we first need to understand a little about how the brain
works. When we do something or meet someone for the first time, the brain
reacts by rapidly processing information through the senses so that it can come
up with a response to the given situation. To do this it relies on perception
over thought so that sights, sounds, textures, smells and tastes are all
swiftly absorbed to create – hey presto – an initial impression.
Because this information is
processed so quickly, the window of opportunity for making a good first
impression is a particularly small one. Some experts claim we have just 7 to 17
seconds to make a positive impact on those we meet, but recent studies suggest
that first impressions are actually formed even more quickly than this (see the
section on ‘Voice’ below). So how can you seize your opportunity to make a good
first impression in any situation?
1. Context is key
The first thing to do is to
take stock of the circumstances. Are you going for a job interview, heading on
a first date, or meeting others in your aerobics class? Recognising the context
will allow you to understand what others are likely looking for. Walking into
an interview wearing cargo shorts and sunglasses is a guaranteed way to leave a
lasting impression, and not a good one. Also, be aware of cultural differences
– looking someone in the eye when talking to them is not customary in all
cultures. If in doubt, just follow the other person’s lead.
Did you know?
A study by the Society for
Personality and Social Psychology found that people made more negative
judgements about someone’s personality from still photos than they did in
2. Disarm and charm
One of the things people
look for when meeting a stranger is approachability (i.e. does this person want
to help me or harm me?), so never try to act as though you’re someone you’re
not. Doing so will only make you feel uncomfortable and is likely to make the
person you’re meeting feel uncomfortable too. Authenticity is appealing because
it helps create a sense of trustworthiness, which is a strong foundation for
building a relationship, whether personal or professional.
A study by psychologists at
the University of Glasgow found that participants made judgements about
someone’s personality type within as little as a half-second of hearing their
voice – that’s about the time it takes you to say “hello”. The research showed
that men who raised their tone and women who alternated theirs were deemed to
be the most trustworthy. Given this level of sensitivity, take care to monitor
your tone – avoid speaking loudly (it could be interpreted as egoism), too
softly (it could make you seen overly shy) and try not to hesitate (it may
indicate a lack of self-assurance). Instead, aim to come across as being
confident and credible by alternating your tone and putting emphasis on key
words to retain the listener’s interest.
Did you know?
Meeting new people
activates the same primitive region of the brain that’s responsible for weighing
up the value or usefulness of objects.
4. Be aware of your
The less we know about
other people, the more likely we are to judge them by their appearance. As with
tone of voice, judging by appearance takes just a fraction of a second, so give
due thought to the impression you’d like to create (professional, personable,
fun, etc.) and select your clothing, make-up or jewellery accordingly.
Tip: Online profiles
can greatly impact your offline chances of getting a job interview or making a
date, so always think about the possible consequences of making those
“hilarious” hen or stag photos available for all to see. If you do want to
share your antics with friends, use the privacy settings on your social
networking page to keep random strangers out!
5. Body language
Your body language is just
as important in making a great first impression as the words you use. Your
posture, gestures and facial expressions can all easily reveal more about what
you are feeling or thinking than your words, so always try to establish an
immediate connection with people you meet by greeting them with a solid
handshake. You can convey a sense of confidence by using regular eye contact
and standing straight. Also, be sure to use facial expressions such as raising
your eyebrows and smiling to show the other person that you are engaging with
what they are saying.
Tip: Finding common
ground is one of the best ways of winning over someone you’ve just met, so if
you’re aware of a shared friendship, or even a shared love of celebrity gossip,
don’t be afraid to use it to build trust!
So you’ve gotten by the half-second,
7-second and 17-second milestones and you feel like you’ve already failed to
make a positive impression. Don’t worry, as long as the other person is still
willingly talking to you there’s time to turn things around by doing your bit
in the conversation. For a start, avoid talking too much, particularly about
yourself. Instead, show them you’re interested by asking plenty of questions
(but don’t overdo it). It’s also best to keep the topics general enough at
first, so don’t give or ask for information that may be too sensitive or
personal. Finally, try keep in mind that the other person is likely to be just
as nervous and eager as you, so extend them the same courtesies as you’d like
to get from them. After all, there’s plenty of truth in the old saying – a
stranger is just a friend you haven't yet met!