Five Ways to Make a Good First Impression

As we all know from our life experience, first impressions can be wrong as we learn about people over time.  The problem is that you may not be given a second chance to make a first impression.

In 2005, Malcolm Gladwell published a book on this topic called Blink.   It is a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions.  With this in mind, it is important to be intentional in the first  impressions that we create, especially in high stakes relationship.  The following are 5 ways to make a good first impression:

  1. Consider in advance the image that you want to convey

Whether you are meeting a new boss, joining a new committee or interviewing for a job, think about what image you want to convey and what you will say, do and wear to help you achieve this image.  It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so the”picture” you first present says much about you to the person you are meeting.  Expectations are different among organizations so find out about cultural norms related to dress.  Practice how you will achieve this at home.

  1. Arrive early and plan for every contingency so you are not late

If you are late for an initial meeting, it can be very difficult to change that first impression even if you have a very legitimate excuse.  Plan your arrival well in advance of when you need to be there.  When I was in the Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow program, we were always told that to be on time is to be late.  There is truth to this – because you have allowed yourself no margin for error.

  1. Smile and be the first to extend your hand in greeting and introduce yourself

There is nothing more welcoming than a warm smile and a firm (not limp)  handshake.  If you are proactive in being the first to take this step, it will increase your confidence.  Be in the moment and turn off your smart phone in advance.

  1. Watch your body language

Use your body language to create a sense of confidence and self-assurance.  In most but not all cultures, lack of eye contact, cross your arms or positioning yourself far from the others in the room can convey that you are guarded or defensive.  You want to adopt body language that matches the culture and conveys a sense that you are engaged in the conversation.  Work hard to not let confusion, annoyance, frustration, or lack of interest show.

  1. Convey genuine interest and look for common ground

When you are meeting people for the first time, approach others with a genuine interest in the organization and/or person.  This is often contagious and you will have better conversations and lasting connections when you are interested because they become interested.  Project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism. Strive to learn from your meeting and to contribute appropriately, maintaining an upbeat manner and a smile.

As Gladwell has written, you have just a few seconds to make a good first impression and it can be impossible to change it. So it’s worth giving each new encounter your best shot. Much of what you need to do to make a good impression is common sense. But with a little extra thought and preparation, you can make that first impression not just good but great.


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