Making a first impression is incredibly important. It’s one of the most important parts of acing a job interview. It’s vital for networking and learning how to maximize the utility of your social circle. In fact, it’s not exaggerating to say that making the right first impression with someone will make or break your relationship with them. Getting off on the wrong foot with somebody can actually have long-term consequences that affect how they see you. These implicit impressions of you – the way that you come across the first time you meet somebody – are incredibly hard to shake; the only real way to fix them is if you can prove that the first impression didn’t really “count”, as it were.
But rather than worry about doing damage control or learning , you should concern yourself with learning how to make the best first impression possible. Whether you’re networking at a party, looking for a new job or just trying to meet somebody awesome, nailing the first impression is the quickest way to affect how people think of you.
Don’t Sweat The Opening
One of the most common sticking points I see are people getting hung up on how to approach a stranger. They get caught up in the idea that they need to have an excuse to talk to them – especially if said stranger happens to be an attractive woman. People get hung up on the idea that the first words out of their mouth have to be magical, otherwise they’re going to just get shot down.
Ironically, for all the stress people put themselves through, the opener is literally the least important part of meeting somebody. Straight talk: unless you say something incredibly outrageous and insulting, people never remember what you said when you first meet them.
No, what they’re going to remember is how you made them feel. This is why first impressions are so important: that initial feeling they have upon meeting you is going to color how they see you for as long as you know each other. Are you coming across as someone who’s timid and afraid to actually talk to her? Are you showing that you’re willing to ignore “don’t talk to me” signs? Or are you showing her that you’re someone who’s well calibrated, who understands the social context and is a cool person to get to know?
The words you use aren’t going to change somebody’s mind and make them more or less interested in you than in the way you approach them. The easiest – and in many ways, the best – way to help ensure that you’re making a strong first impression is to be honest. Wanting to meet somebody isn’t wrong and doesn’t require a pretext; your pretext is that you think they’re cool and you want to meet them. When you’re approaching somebody for the first time, you’re just trying to start a conversation; you don’t need to overthink what you need to say rather than how you’re going to say it.
I can’t stress the importance of being a sharp dresser enough. Our clothes are the largest and most visible indicator of who we are; they impact our looks and help other people form snap judgements about us. If you want to make the right first impression, you have to think about just what message your clothes are sending. Dressing well has a direct effect on how people see you. The better put together you are, the more people will think positively of you. This is known as the halo effect – when we perceive someone as being good looking, we automatically assume they’re better people over all. Thus, if you want to make a strong first impression, you want to dress well – this means you want to be wearing stylish, well-fitting clothes when you meet somebody for the first time. Who do you think is going to make a better first impression: the sloppy and unkempt man in the baggy shorts, the stained tee shirt and the two-day stubble or the man in the pressed slacks, tailored shirt and the carefully maintained beard?
Think about it: how you dress tells the world far more about you than you realize. You’re showing people your archetype, which immediately causes people to assign certain stereotypes to you. How you dress tells people how you see yourself; someone who dresses sloppily tends to be sloppy overall while somebody who dresses well tends to be more focused and detail oriented. It tells them how much effort you’re putting into yourself which reflects the effort you put into the rest of your life as well. Is that necessarily fair? No. There’re people who don’t care how they dress but are brilliant, organized and detail-oriented. But it is how people perceive you… and trying to correct a first impression is a lot harder than making the right one in the first place.
So if you want to win people over from the start: know how to dress to impress.
Turn On The Charm
Want to make a good first impression? Want someone you just met to like you? Show them that you like them. Part of why Tom Cruise is so effortlessly charming is because he famously has the ability to make you feel like he finds you absolutely fascinating. From the minute he meets you, you’re given the impression that he’s thrilled to meet you and he thinks you’re awesome… and that feeling is going to stick with you.
The mistake that I see a lot of people make is that when they’re meeting someone for the first time, they’re sending the wrong signals. They’re a little too reserved or distracted or they’re giving little hints that maybe they’re not as thrilled to meet you as they say. So if you want to pour on the charm when you introduce yourself, you want to sell it.
First: you have to give them that warm smile. You don’t need to give the full 5000 watt grin, but you should give a genuine smile that reaches your eyes. And trust me: people are very good at telling fake smiles from real ones. Next: you want to make strong eye-contact. Not making eye-contact when you’re meeting someone for the first time tells them that either you’re distracted, you’re intimidated or that you’d really just rather be anywhere but there, meeting them. Yes, making eye contact can be difficult – even intimidating – for many people. But trust me: it makes a difference in how people think of you. One easy cheat to help ensure that you actually look someone in the eye when you’re meeting them is to make sure to note what color their eyes are. Are they blue or grey? Green or hazel? Brown or black?
Next is the hand shake and holy shit I can not emphasize how important this is. I have lost track of how many times I’ve met people and shook their hands only to get the cold fish in response. Trust me, it makes people’s skin crawl. If you want to make a good first impression, you want to give a firm, solid hand shake. You don’t want to do the Alpha-Male-Grip-Test, just a decent grip and firm response, not a floppy weak dead thing.
Finally, there’s the Tom Cruise trick. And it’s actually incredibly simple: you listen to what they have to say and then you ask them to explain further. You want to ask questions designed to get them to elaborate more on what they’ve just said. By doing this, you’re being an active listener; instead of simply waiting for your turn to talk, you’re actively paying attention to them. Moreover, by asking them for more information, you’re telling them that you value their thoughts… something that people always appreciate.
One of the sneakiest and subtlest ways to make someone like you is very simple: be like them. Humans are tribal by nature and we tend to divide the world into “like us” and “not like us”. We instinctively trust people who are more like us and respond more positively to them. In fact, when we like somebody, we often will mimic them unconsciously; it’s rapport-building behavior, a way of saying “see, I’m like you! You can trust me!”
But if you want to make a stronger first impression on someone and leave them feeling like they’ve known you for far longer than they have, then you want to deliberately mimic them. The easiest way to do this is to match their energy level and to adopt their body language. If they’re high-energy, then you want to raise yours to match. If they’re lower energy, then you want to be more subdued and restrained; coming in at a higher level of energy will make you seem overly excited, which can be irritating to someone who’s naturally more taciturn.
It’s also useful to assume slightly similar speech patterns and vocabulary usage; the way we speak is often indicative of our background and hearing a familiar verbal cadence and word choice helps create the impression of commonalities – even when they don’t actually exist.
You also want to mimic how they’re standing, lean in the same direction they do, adopt similar arm positioning, etc. Mirroring their body language is another way of reinforcing the “we’re the same” vibe that helps bring people together and makes them become more attuned to one another. You don’t want to be exactly like them – you’re trying to build rapport, not playing copy cat – but you want to be noticably similar. That similarity builds trust and comfort and helps align the two of you. In fact, if you’re especially skilled you can perform what’s known as “pacing and leading” – starting by matching their body language and then once you’re in sync, starting to change your body language so that they match yours. This can be an excellent way of diffusing tension or making someone who’s naturally closed off open up more – without even realizing that they’re doing it.
Want To Make A Good First Impression? Assume The Best.
One thing that’s important to making a strong first impression is, simply, to assume that it’s going to go well. Being positive and having an optimistic outlook on the interaction actually influences others. If you go into the interaction assuming that they’ll like you… they probably will.
Yes, I realize this sounds a little woo-woo-feel-good-newage-y, but there’s actually legitimate science behind it.
You see, your attitude directly affects your behavior. When you assume that the person is going to accept you – not is likely to or might but will – then you adjust your behavior accordingly. You behave more warmly – as though you were talking with a friend, rather than a complete stranger. People then respond to that warmth, inspiring them to assume acceptance as well. On the other hand, if you come into an interaction assuming that you’re already at odds or that they’re looking for an excuse to reject you, you’re more likely to behave defensively and be colder to that person, and they will respond accordingly.
Your attitude towards meeting someone – whether positive or negative – creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you’re seeing the interaction as a potential negative, you’re working to ensure that it will be; that rejection then just cements the behavior in the person’s mind and confirms their pre-existing belief. On the other hand, the more upbeat and positive you are, the more likable and friendly you tend to be… and as a result, you’ll create that positive first impression you were hoping for.