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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 impression?

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 face-to-face meetings.

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.

3. Voice

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 appearance

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!

6. Conversation

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!


Six Sure-fire Ways to Make a Great First Impression

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