The saying “you only have one chance to make a first impression” holds true in many situations, from job interviews to sales calls. How can you make sure that you start off on the right foot? What should you actually say? And what’s the best way to follow up?
First impressions matter so much because they happen fast, and they are stubborn, says Whitney Johnson, the author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work. And once that impression is formed, it's "very, very hard to change it".
Simply put, your relationships and interactions will be a lot easier if you're able to immediately start off strong. "You get the benefit of the doubt," says Dorie Clark, the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.
Here are some strategies from the experts to help ensure others see the best in you from the beginning.
– Prepare talking points: before meeting someone new, do your homework. Know who you’re meeting, what they care about and what they might need from you. Your goal, says Johnson, is to “show that you understand the problem the other person is trying to solve and how your skills put you in a position to help”.
– Be aware of your body language: when meeting someone new, it’s normal to be nervous, but you don’t want your anxiety to show. Clark suggests “power posing [before the meeting] to tamp down your cortisol levels”. Take long strides, sit up straight, walk with your chest held high. Even if this isn’t your natural way of being, assuming these simple poses will increase your confidence.
– Play to your strengths: collect a “trusted cabinet” of friends and colleagues who can help you understand “how you come across to the world”, says Clark. Ask them what they see as your “strengths, your winning traits and the most likable things about you,” and then try to emphasise those things when you’re meeting someone new.
– Find something in common: another way to build rapport is to “find a bond or a point of commonality”, says Clark. Finding out what you have in common with the person might require a bit of detective work on your part. Look for clues about things such as a devotion to a certain sports team, a love for a region of the world or an admiration for a particular historical figure.
– Follow up: even when the conversation is over, your job isn't done. To ensure that your first impression sticks, "write a personalised note of sincere appreciation", says Johnson. The note should "recap the conversation" in a way that "shows you've thought about it or learned some new insight" from it.
Making a stellar first impression can help that new relationship be much more productive. So think of each one as an opportunity to shine: your future self will thank you. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016
Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist in Boston and a lecturer at Wesleyan University.