When I first meet people, they have about five seconds for me to evaluate them and form my first impression. That first impression, right or wrong, is difficult to reverse or undo. The entire future of the relationship is often formed from the very beginning.
I don’t really do it on purpose. In fact, it is human nature to judge people the first time we meet them. We do it whether or not we even realize it. This is why first impressions are so important in every aspect of your life, from career to personal.
Here are six ways we judge people when we first meet them and some tips to make a good first impression:
Of course, the first thing that we notice about someone is how they look. It is the quickest trait that we can evaluate. If two people are standing side by side and one is dressed in a business suit while the other is wearing a ratty, stained t-shirt, our first impressions are going to be quite different. Even if those two people are from similar backgrounds and social standing, we might automatically assume that one is rich and one is poor.
Here are a few tips to making a good impression with your appearance:
Always consider your attire. What is the appropriate dress for the occasion? Are you going to a business meeting or a barbecue? Always dress for the occasion. You may set the wrong impression by either over or under dressing.
Grooming matters. A clean and tidy appearance is the best way to give a good impression. Is your hair out of your eyes and off of your face? If you are a man, is your facial hair trimmed or shaven? If you are a woman, is your makeup appropriate for the occasion?
Accessories can distract. Avoid jewelry that is louder than your clothing. Huge, flashy jewelry can distract someone that you are meeting for the first time. Avoid stuffing your pockets or having pens poking out of your shirt.
I will most likely form an opinion about someone based on whether or not he or she smiles. Smiling is a universal sign of friendliness, and wearing one makes you immediately more approachable. Think about it. If you need to ask someone a question or are looking for someone to talk to – would you approach a person who’s smiling or one who’s scowling?
A warm and inviting smile goes a long way. It is a quick and easy way to let people know that you are friendly. Smiles welcome people. They build trust before you ever speak a word. When you first meet people, ensure you greet them with a smile to avoid being judged as rude or disinterested.
Handshakes may seem like an odd thing to judge someone on, but it happens all of the time. For example, if someone gives me a limp or wimpy handshake, I immediately form a judgment in my mind that they lack confidence.
Here are the components of a good handshake that will leave a great first impression:
Use the right amount of strength. While you want to avoid the weak, limp handshake, you also want to steer clear of pretending to be Hulk Hogan. Use a firm grip with about as much force as you’d use to open a door handle. Be assertive, but don’t go overboard.
Hold for three to four seconds. Anything longer can send the wrong impression, leading to an uncomfortable first meeting.
Get a good temperature. Sweaty palms are something that you do not want to be remembered for. Cold hands aren’t a lot better. Wipe your hands off or warm your hands up before important first encounters.
4. Body Language
When it comes to first impressions, you are much more likely to be judged on your nonverbal communication rather than your words. Body language speaks much louder in those crucial first few seconds. Body language can convey confidence, intelligence, and personality. When someone is standing slumped over with their arms across, it sends the message that they are bashful, angry or sulking. By doing so, you immediately become less approachable and lose credibility.
Be aware of your body language when you first meet people. It can be nerve-wracking to meet someone for the first time, but you can make a conscious effort to keep your nervous habits in check. Stand tall, smile, make eye contact and avoid crossed arms to ensure your body language doesn’t send a message you’d rather not send.
Did you know that you can be judged before you even arrive? One of the quickest ways to make a bad first impression is to be late. When you are meeting someone for the first time, you are generally expected to be on time. Being on time lets the other person know that you respect them and their time.
Plan to arrive at least a few minutes early when meeting someone for the first time. Give yourself plenty of extra wiggle room to account for possible traffic or getting lost. There are no good excuses when it comes to being late to a first encounter.
We all have our little quirky mannerisms, but the truth is that you may be judged by them. It might not be fair, but the other person doesn’t know you yet. If you are jittery, outwardly negative, use bad language, smoke or you have a habit of looking at your cell phone every few minutes, you are going to send an impression that you may not want to send.
Think about the people you have met in your past that left a bad taste in your mouth right away. What mannerisms did they have that turned you off? Now think about your mannerisms. While your best buds may not mind these little quirks, some people may find them unappealing when they first meet you. Be on your best behavior until you get to know someone.
It is human nature to judge people when we first meet them, and that isn’t always a bad thing. There are lots and lots of people in this world, and by setting filters, we are able to weed out those that we don’t wish to invest our time in and those that will not add any value to our lives. In fact, there have been studies performed that show first impressions are actually fairly accurate in gauging a person’s true personality and abilities. So think about what kind of first impression you want to leave with the people that you meet. Those first few seconds are crucial so make sure you are ready to dazzle them!
Melissa Ricker is a nuclear engineer and a professional freelance writer specializing in career growth, technical writing and online entrepreneurship. She writes a blog, Engineered Motherhood, for working mothers who need help balancing career growth and time management.