The saying goes ‘first impressions count’ – have you ever considered why that is?
The power of the first impression goes beyond that old adage. Studies carried out by reputable researchers suggest that, when you meet someone for the first time, your brain sorts and ‘codes’ the information it perceives (for example, their age, race, culture, gender, physical appearance, accent, voice, etc) and summarises it into an ultimate score – the first impression. This sub-conscious process happens really quickly. It’s difficult to switch off as it comes from the ‘reptilian’ part of the brain, which was programmed to decide, in a matter of seconds, whether to fight, flight or relax. So your brain is fast at making first impressions and they tend to stick.
This classic picture shows the case in point – the image on the left shows what appears to be a hospital doctor. The image on the right shows the same person dressed very differently. So the ‘uniform’ you wear can create a totally different level of trust and confidence.
Research also shows that, once you have formed a first impression, you filter everything the other person does through it. Whilst your first impression is not impossible to change, it can be an uphill struggle – we need a lot more data before we are prepared to change our mind. In addition, much of a positive first impression is based on likeness. This means that, the more similar people are in terms of appearance, dress and speech to you, the easier it is to make a positive first impression.
So how can you manage the first impression you make?
- Take a long look in the mirror. What might other people see? Ask a good friend if you’re unsure
- Ask yourself, ‘How do I want to be seen?’
- Identify the gap and what actions you can take to change
Clearly, we cannot easily change the fundamentals, like gender. However, there are many aspects that we can change to some extent, such as appearance, voice and posture, to name a few. For example, I often choose to dress down to be less ‘corporate’, because I want to be seen as approachable.
As an image consultant, clients often come to see me because they want to present a different version of themselves, maybe the best possible at their age, shape or size. There is a lot I can do to give them the understanding of how to dress appropriately to suit their colouring, body shape and scale, personality and profession/lifestyle.
Here are some tips that you can practise when meeting people for the first time, whether it is in a meeting or interview, with a prospective customer or even at the school gates:
- Offer a firm (not vice-like) handshake – this helps to build trust and connection
- Make eye contact and smile
- Use open body language, avoiding crossed arms or closed posture
- Break the ice by asking open-ended questions; focus on them rather than talking about yourself
- Show that you are listening
- Consider their position, what do they want from you?
- Find common ground
A word of caution, however. People are able to detect when you are ‘faking’ it. So, when managing the impression you make, take care not to lose your individuality because that what makes you unique.