We can talk all about the dangers of being prejudiced and how it’s not cool to judge a book by its cover, but there’s just one tiny problem…biology.
The human brain, which has evolved over thousands of years, consists of two key systems. There’s System 1, which is the brain’s automatic, intuitive, and conscious system of cognitive processing. Then there’s System 2, which is a much more slowed, controlled, and analytical method of thinking.
The problem is that System 1 takes center stage 99 percent of the time. This means most of a person’s thoughts and perceptions aren’t actually conscious or intentional – they’re automatic. And guess which system kicks into play when you meet someone for the first time?
Yep, it’s System 1.
So for all of the lip service we give to not rushing to conclusions and to get everyone a fair shake, the reality is that first impressions are involuntarily formed within a matter of seconds. (There’s nothing the person forming the impression can do about it.) So if you want to make a first impression on someone, you have to take control. This article will show you precisely how to do this.
The Science of First Impressions
If you want to make a great first impression, it helps to know how a first impression is formed in the first place.
According to research, it takes just a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger. This impression is then solidified and clarified over the next three seconds. By the time seven seconds pass, nearly all of the first impression has been formed.
So what exactly do other people determine in their first impression? Whether they realize it or not, they’re making quick judgments about:
- If you’re high status
- If you’re trustworthy
- If you’re charismatic
- If you’re “leadership material”
- If you’re promiscuous
- If you’re dominant
- If you’re intelligent
For better or worse, it takes several months of repeat interactions to overcome the initial first impression you made. This means a solid first impression gives you a long runway and plenty of room for error, while a poor first impression leaves you with an uphill battle.
The moral of the story is quite simple: Make a strong first impression or risk putting yourself at a stark disadvantage for the foreseeable future.
6 Tips for Making Great First Impressions
Every individual is different and has unique expectations, preferences, and perceptions. However, first impressions are always a numbers game. You want to do the things that are most likely to have a positive impact on the average person. By appealing to the average – not the outliers – you’ll make strong first impressions more often than not.
Here are a few helpful tips for making great first impressions every time:
1. Care About Your Appearance
Research shows that 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. In fact, 40 percent of all nerve fibers are linked to the retina. This means you need to prioritize your appearance when meeting someone for the first time. (It’s likely that most of their first impression about you will have already been formed by the time you open your mouth to speak.)
There’s a time for dressing up and a time for dressing down. If you know you’ll be meeting a possible business connection or colleague, professional attire is recommended. If you’re simply grabbing drinks with a new group of friends, you can find casual apparel here.
2. Introduce Yourself Properly
When introducing yourself, get in the habit of saying your full name. Instead of saying, “Hey, I’m Joe!” try saying, “Hi, I’m Joe Thompson.” It could feel slightly uncomfortable and forced the first time you do it, but it makes a much more emphatic statement.
The goal of an introduction is to make sure people see you as someone who is confident and trustworthy. By giving your full name, it shows a certain level of assurance and transparency.
3. Give a Firm Handshake
There’s something very powerful that happens when you lock hands with someone. Humans are made for touch and this simple connection speaks volumes. It can tell someone whether or not you’re trustworthy/questionable, warm/cold, powerful/weak, etc.
The key to a good handshake is to keep it firm but not overpowering. Always lead with a very firm handshake and then quickly adjust if the other person’s grip is significantly weaker. You don’t want to hurt the other person’s hand, but you should be slightly firmer.
A proper handshake should last between two to five seconds. Anything shorter and makes you appear disinterested and apathetic. Anything longer and it becomes a little uncomfortable. Always look the other person in the eye while shaking hands.
4. Smile and Show Personality
With very few exceptions, you should always smile within the first few seconds of meeting someone. A smile (combined with eye contact) shows that you’re human. It creates an instant and personal connection between you and the other person. It also has a way of tearing down barriers that may exist by sending a signal that it’s okay to relax.
5. Maintain a Steady Tone
Voice inflection and tone are very important when meeting someone for the first time. People who speak in a fast, high-pitched tone that elevates at the end of the words come across as nervous, weak, and subordinate. People who speak in a level tone that never gets too high or low come across as controlled and powerful.
6. Find Common Ground Immediately
When meeting someone for the first time, always search for some common ground. Examples include:
- If you’re at an event or party, ask them how they know the hosts.
- Comment on something they’re wearing and give a compliment (when appropriate)
- Ask where someone is from and then make a connection to that location
Common ground helps to build credibility. It gives you a shared experience and instantly makes the other person associate you with something they’re already familiar with. It gives you a big advantage.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
Making a good first impression isn’t about being deceptive. It’s about putting your best foot forward so that people know, like, and trust you from the start. If you make a habit out of following the tips outlined in this article, you’ll see a noticeable difference in every new relationship you form.