Is it shallow to judge people by their appearance? I mean, aren’t we admonished not to judge a book by its cover, or make assumptions about people based on what we see on the outside—things like race, gender, or age.
Sure, we can tell ourselves that we are people of substance who look into the inner soul of another person before we form an impression of them.
But before you get too comfortable with that fairytale, not everyone has the time to deep dive into your genius or high moral character. It’s a sad fact of life that leaves even Cinderella with ashes in her mouth.
The book “Blink,” by Malcolm Gladwell, is a compilation of studies that suggest our first impressions are accurate and stand the test of time. Based on the theory of thin-slicing, the book contends that we can make accurate assessments of a person based on first impressions.
Behavioral scientists argue that first impressions need to be taken seriously because we place an inordinate amount of importance on the first piece of information we receive about a person and will actually reject subsequent information that conflicts with our first judgment.
The reason is that few of us are given the opportunity to rectify a negative first impression! It can take a bit of time for others to see what makes us special. So we need to make a strong first impression if we hope to get through the front door. Often, all it takes is a mindset that refuses to be sabotaged by events around them.
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Whether snap judgments are right or wrong, they are the way our brain makes sense of information in a short period of time. In a recent study by Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov, people looked at snippets from a video of a political candidate. They could predict with 70% accuracy who would win the election from the tape. This tells us that people can make incredibly accurate snap judgments in a matter of seconds.
We need to make those seconds count. Strong first impressions help you be persuasive because they are a very effective way of getting people’s attention.
Here are 8 killer ways you can make strong first impressions:
1. Dress To Impress
I know it sounds trite, but appearance is our first filter. This isn’t news to anyone so put a little effort into it—as they say, dress for the job you want and not the job you have.
A professional appearance will enhance your personal brand and the more polished you appear, the more likely you will leave a positive impression. It’s not what you do, it’s how you look doing it.
This doesn’t necessarily mean conservative or expensive, but it does mean you need to put thought into your appearance. A watch or piece of jewelry goes a long way in sending the right message, or the wrong one!
How To Make It Work For You: If you want to be a go-to person at work, dress up. A study found that subjects who changed into business attire were able to increase their abstract thinking, an important aspect of long-term strategy and feelings of power. If you want to be unique, another study found that a professor who wore red sneakers while giving a lecture increased their status and level of competence in the eyes of the audience.
2. Wipe That Look Off Your Face
When it comes to killer first impressions, it not just your clothes that matter. Research indicates that facial expressions play a significant role in how people perceive you.
While you may have a face made for radio, there is one feature over which you have complete control—your smile. A smile is an open invitation to interact with others. It signals that you’re trustworthy and cooperative and that you value the other person’s time and attention.
A keyword here is genuine. Fake smiles can be spotted a mile away and have the opposite effect of a genuine one. If you’re wearing a mask during COVID, remember that a genuine smile will push up your cheeks and create laugh lines around your eyes. No botox, folks, or you’ll end up looking like a washed-up celebrity.
How To Make It Work For You: Successful people have strong set brows and jawlines that are normally associated with leadership. Keep brows and lips turned slightly upward because it will make you look more trustworthy.
3. Appear Interested
Even boring people have feelings so make an effort to appear interested in what they have to say. You never know who that person knows and how they might be able to help you out in the future. Besides, it’s the decent way to behave (see number 4).
According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, one of the best ways to win people’s confidence is by simply letting them talk first.
Start collecting information about the other person. Listen as they share things about themselves and the best way to do this is to engage in small talk.
How To Make It Work For You:
- Be a good listener
- Ask pertinent questions during your conversation
- Make eye contact to show you’re fully engaged
- Don’t interrupt or finish their sentence
- Speak calmly and clearly
4. Politeness Matters
The media and movies often portray FBI agents as rude, pushy, and arrogant. While kicking ass has its place in making arrests, generally the most effective FBI agent is the one who recruits people who have knowledge about a suspect. While informants come in many shapes, sizes, and smells, the agent must be someone the informant wants to work with.
Polite people are memorable because they stand out for positive reasons. They make us feel comfortable, respected and valued. We want to be around them.
How To Make It Work For You:
- Step forward to meet someone, smile, tilt your head slightly downward (a sign of respect in every culture).
- Act as though you are the one honored by the introduction, not them.
- Never gossip.
5. Offer A Firm Handshake
Pre-COVID, a handshake was the international sign of politeness. A proper handshake can convey confidence. After a COVID vaccine is found, handshakes will return for one simple reason—they are an easy way to make a killer first impression.
Don’t roll your eyes at this but a handshake can be a fine art. It should be warm, friendly, and sincere. If it is too firm or too weak, you may convey a negative impression. If you’re seated when you’re introduced to someone, stand before you shake hands—it shows respect for the person you are meeting.
How To Make It Work For You:
- Keep it short and sweet.
- Remember to smile.
- Make eye contact when you shake hands, but don’t stare or the other person will start to think you’re a creep.
6. Body Language
Psychology tells us that we instinctively mirror each other’s body language. If the other person lacks eye contact and acts distracted, we’ll also start to scan the room for someone more likable so we can get away from the bore in front of us.
A mirror neuron is a neuron that helps the brain recognize faces and read facial expressions. This is the neuron responsible for our “mirroring” reactions. If someone smiles at you, the neuron fires and causes you to smile in return. These mirroring reflexes are ways your body language can say, “we have things in common,” or “I can’t wait to move on to someone more interesting.”
How To Make It Work For You: You may think you’re a contender for an Academy Award for your performance, but until you can control your body language, the only person you will fool is yourself. Experiment with mirroring when you interact with salespeople, neighbors, or friends and see how accurate you can become at interpreting their reactions.
7. Arrive Early
Arrive a few minutes early. It’s always important to be punctual because when you arrive on time you send the clear message that you’re responsible, capable, and respectful of others’ time.
Use the few extra minutes to go to the restroom so you can check your appearance and gain your composure before you walk into an important meeting.
How To Make It Work For You: Always schedule extra time on your calendar to accommodate traffic delays, weather, and parking.
8. Prepare Ahead Of Time
Proper preparation reduces anxiety and will help give first impressions that portray you as competent. If you do your homework before an important business meeting, you will have a tremendous advantage over your competition.
If you are attending a networking event, familiarizing yourself with the names and industries of those attending will help you better understand the needs of your potential new clients.
When you take the time to prepare, you’ll appear interesting and knowledgeable—two qualities that help make good first impressions.
How To Make It Work For You: Do these two things: 1) Learn as much as you can about those you will be meeting, and 2) Brush up on current events that pertain to their interests.