By Cindy Campbell

As part of his stand-up routine, comedian Chris Rock shared something pretty insightful about first impressions: “When you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’re not really meeting them, you’re meeting their representative.” Think about it: We all like to make a good first impression, but have you ever walked away from meeting someone for the first time wishing that you could have a do-over? I know I have. Getting a second chance to make a good impression is not only rare, it’s darn near impossible.

Think about your own first impressions of others. When we first meet someone who appears aloof, arrogant, or otherwise disinterested, our initial observation is likely very negative. No matter how brief, we go on to make character judgements based on that initial interaction. Once we’ve sized someone up, we become quite committed to our initial assumptions about who they are and how they will interact with us from that moment on. We all like to believe that we’re good judges of character … but what if we’re wrong? What if the other person was feeling ill or troubled about something unrelated at the time we initially met him or her? It can take four or more consistently positive interactions with that person before we begin to adjust our assessment. Until we have had several positive contacts with that person, our nature is to believe that the good interactions were likely just a fluke.

So, how do we set ourselves up for success? How do we put our “best representative” out there? Here are a couple of quick tips to improve your first impression success rate:

  • Pay attention to what is actually being said. Practice active listening. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted or mentally jump ahead in the conversation. There is no greater turn-off than being interrupted by someone who incorrectly assumed they knew where you were headed with the conversation. It’s important to keep outside thoughts and distractions from misrepresenting you.
  • Make sure your word choice, vocal tone, body language, and facial expression are all projecting your intended message. Nothing can defeat our best effort to impress more rapidly than an inappropriate facial expression or defensive body language. Our spoken message may be welcoming and appropriate, but a misplaced facial expression or defensive posture can cause those words to go unheard. At both ends of the spectrum, a defensive or overly relaxed posture can be off-putting and may communicate an emotion we’re not intending to project.
  • Make appropriate eye contact. If you’re spending more time glancing at your watch, gazing at something past the person you’re speaking with, or simply not making eye contact when the other person is speaking, it can leave the impression that you’re disinterested or even dishonest. Alternately, never breaking eye contact with the other person can make you seem too intense or even intimidating.
  • Project self-confidence. Self-confidence is appealing to others. A word of caution: Don’t overdo it. Going too far can leave others with the impression that you’re arrogant.

With a little bit of attention and effort, you can effectively set yourself up to make a positive first impression. It can certainly be well worth the investment.

Cindy Campbell is IPI’s senior training and development specialist.