Perhaps you know the saying: ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’? Our brain automatically determines in a fraction of a second whether or not we like another person. And in most cases, that first impression lasts for a long time. Today, I will explain to you how you can create a good first impression and how it is possible to correct the way you are perceived if the first impression you make is not positive.
The process occurs without us being aware of it: Each time we meet someone new, our brain appraises and assesses the other person in a tenth of a second. Our subconscious analyses two main characteristics: 1) Is the person trustworthy (friend or foe)? 2) Is the person competent or capable and could they potentially be useful to me? These two core assessments are logical from an evolutionary perspective.
We communicate constantly
“You cannot not communicate” – you will no doubt have heard this statement by the Austrian communication theorist Paul Watzlawick. We communicate constantly – whether or not we want to and regardless of whether or not we are speaking. This is because it is impossible to send out no signals (verbal or non-verbal) to another person. Our bodies never lie. With your appearance and your behavior, you convey the way you see yourself and how much (or how little) you value yourself.
Did you know that only 7% of the impact that you achieve through communication depends on the information that you impart? The remaining 93% of the impact is generated through the way in which you present this content: 53% with your appearance and body language and 38% with your voice and tone. Our body expresses itself even faster than we do with words. We show our inner feelings around one second before we speak.
Judging people based on appearances
The way our brain analyses people is based on our previous experiences with similar people (face shape, hair, voice, background, etc. – in other words partly on prejudices) and unfortunately – it has to be said – the evaluation is mainly based on external appearances. It is clearly proven that we consider attractive people to be more capable, sociable, intelligent and healthy – without actually being aware of it. www.karrierebibel.de aptly makes the point: “We judge books by their cover and people by their appearance.”
Does this mean that you yourself cannot influence the first impression you make? No – fortunately, that is not the case. Here are a few tips on how you can make a positive first impression:
- Smile – ideally in a way that allows people to see your teeth.
- Make sure that you do not have a negative facial expression. I know from experience that many people consider their neutral facial expression to be much more positive than it actually is. Take a look in the mirror or ask someone for feedback.
- Assume an upright position. When you sit, you can bend forward slightly. It is important that your posture is open so that you do not look unfriendly.
- Be aware that your clothes, your hair (tidy or not) and the way you smell also have an influence on how you are perceived. Avoid wearing excessive amounts of perfume or after shave.
- Maintain eye contact – this shows that you are interested.
- Speak slowly and with short pauses. You will have a greater impact as a result. A lower voice will make you seem more competent and confident than a high voice. This is why the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher trained extensively to ‘acquire’ a deeper voice.
- Avoid hectic gestures – e.g. do not play with your hands, scratch yourself or continuously move your legs when you are sitting. These are signs of nervousness. When you walk around the room, move slowly. This makes you seem more confident.
Genuine = effective communication
Following this series of tips, it is now time for a warning: Your posture and gestures must not appear artificial – as is unfortunately the case with many politicians and company executives. Be yourself! Communication is most effective when content, tone of voice and body language all fit together. So, if you mean what you say, the other person will feel that you are genuine.
In the case of purely written communications, however, it is more difficult to gain an impression of the other person and what he or she is thinking. The non-verbal signals are absent. This is why misunderstandings occur more often with written communications. And studies have shown that when you look at the same people online (without a dialogue, e.g. when you view online photos), you have a more negative impression of them than when you meet them face to face.
Can a first impression be corrected?
A first impression does not usually change – even if you behave differently later on. This is because the first analysis serves as a guide on how to deal with the person. For a long time, it was even thought that the first impression could not be corrected at all. However, in 2015, a study by Cornell University in the US proved that a first impression can be altered – under certain conditions! And those conditions are: You are seen in a new context, and you can prove that your actions were well meant.
Here is how you can (potentially) correct a first impression:
- Once you have realized that the other person has judged you negatively, do not immediately withdraw (or this will cement that first impression). Instead, try to continue to positively influence the other person.
- Find a logical and credible explanation for the first bad impression – e.g. you arrived late because you had to take your children to day care.
- Stand out in a particularly positive way later (as recommended by the US social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvarson).
- Make sure that you get to know each other better (as recommended by the US psychologist Ben Michaelis).
- Let others speak on your behalf. An advocate will have a greater impact than you yourself.
A first impression is very powerful. However, if the people in question are important to you, you should never give up trying to correct a first negative impression
© Claudia Kraaz