Oliva Fox Cabane, a Forbes columnist, teacher, lecturer and career coach sums up the importance of a first impression; “Within a few seconds, with just a glance, people have judged your social and economic level, your level of education, and even your level of success. Within minutes, they’ve also decided your levels of intelligence, trustworthiness, competence, friendliness and confidence. Although these evaluations happen in an instant, they can last for years; first impressions are often indelible.”
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What does it mean to make a good first impression? According to a Harvard Business School study, there are two impressions formed during a first time meeting. If we want to turn an introduction into a longer term relationship, we need to present ourselves as both “warm” and “trustworthy”. Warmth helps your new acquaintance feel better about your intentions toward them. A feeling of good intentions motivates the other party to trust what you have to say. While warmth can be exhibited through mannerisms, body language and greetings, it is the conversational part of the meeting that will be instrumental in presenting yourself as trustworthy.
Some experts say that it only takes a few seconds to form that first, and lasting image of who you are. When meeting someone for the first time appearance counts. Clothing, grooming, body language, and manners set the tone for the rest of the interaction. A strong handshake is usually a good way to start. Maintaining consistent eye contact helps confirm your interest, while standing too close may be perceived as aggressive or disrespectful of personal space. Never talk on your cell phone, or even let it continue ringing. Likewise avoid arriving late or appearing rushed by frequently checking your watch. Once you have moved past those first few seconds, when appearance is what matters, you will be in a better position to continue toward attaining the trustworthy component of a good first impression.
Often our first meeting (and sometimes the entire ensuing relationship) is a telephone call. In these situations, appearance doesn’t matter at all. The tone and content of verbal communications is critical to all first meetings, regardless of where and how you meet.
Begin your introduction with a warm greeting. Be nice, attentive, friendly and engaging. Try to represent yourself authentically to begin building trust. Be a good listener, showing interest in what matters to the person you are meeting. When it is appropriate, use your sense of humor, but never infuse that with slang or comments that may offend. Try not to interrupt or dominate the conversation and refrain from being longwinded or boastful. With a focus on these general communication skills, you are more likely to gain and hold the attention of others so that you can expand the conversation to your desired topics.
For seasoned professionals, many of these tips will already be second nature. Still, it might be helpful to pause and evaluate your own style for new introductions, not only as a refresher for yourself, but also to consciously insure you are being an effective role model for junior colleagues and staff. First impressions have lasting impact, so time will not be wasted by developing and maintaining an effective approach.