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First impressions are powerful! In the space of seconds, we draw instantaneous unconscious conclusions about someone when we meet them for the first time. The information upon which we base these conclusions is gathered in a flash by all of our senses. And these opinions are quite resistant to change.
Imagine that you’re greeting a visitor in the lobby of your office building. As you introduce yourself, your eyes take in hundreds of visual cues about their appearance, your ears process the tone and pitch of their voice, you actually make physical contact through a handshake, and you even pick up their “scent”. By the time you’ve finished saying your name, you have already formed some firm opinions.
As the old saying goes, “you only get one chance to make a first impression”, so make the most of it! Whether it’s a job interview, a meeting with a new customer, or a blind date, you need to put your best foot forward. Here are some suggestions:
Smiling may be the most important thing you can do when you first encounter a new person. Our ability to form strong first impressions evolved as a survival mechanism, so we are unconsciously alert for signs that tell us whether someone is “safe” and friendly. Smiling sends a signal that you are open and approachable. We seldom trust people who don’t smile.
People are positively impressed by attractiveness and tidiness. You don’t have to look like a runway model, but you do need to make the most of the attributes you have. Any sign of slovenliness (stains, scuffs, un-tucked shirts, mismatched clothes) will make a long-lasting negative impression.
Your dress says a lot about your judgment, so be sure that you are attired appropriately for the occasion. Wearing jeans to a job interview or a suit to a picnic could cause people to question your common sense.
To make a good impression, you need to appear self-assured. But in some situations, like a job interview, you may not feel completely confident. This is where an old psychological technique called “acting as if” comes in handy. Visualize a situation where you do feel capable and in control, then act as you would then.
Think of a question or comment that will reflect positively on the person you are meeting. Examples: (1) “You gave me great directions. I drove right to the building with no trouble at all.” (2) “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you ever since our phone conversation.” (3) “I was really impressed by what I learned about your company.” And so forth. But you need to be sincere. Obvious sucking up is a negative.
People tend to like those with whom they have something in common, so try to find “links” to the other person. Examples might include the type of work you do, where you are from, having children or pets, trips you have taken, etc. Clues can often be found in the person’s office, so quickly look around when you arrive and comment on anything of interest.
If you look at any inventory of traits people value in a partner, boss, or coworker, you will almost surely find “sense of humor” near the top of the list. This doesn’t mean cracking jokes, but it does mean smiling, laughing, and avoiding a deadly serious demeanor.
Making a good impression does not mean acting like a different person. Most people can easily spot a fake. So don’t try to be something you’re not, just be the best “you” that you can be!