Whether it be your personal life, in business interactions, or on the retail shop floor, first impressions are critical. Once someone mentally labels you as “likable” or “unlikeable,” everything else you do is viewed through that filter.
You can’t change this—the human brain is hardwired in this way as a prehistoric survival mechanism—you can learn how to make those decisions work in your favour.
First, a few facts:
- The period of time available to create a first impression is proven to be 7 seconds.
- First impressions are more heavily influenced (by a factor of 4 x) by nonverbal cues than verbal ones.
There are six ways to make a positive first impression with your non-verbal cues:
- Adjust your attitude. Before you turn to greet someone, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embrace. Consciously decide to be: friendly, happy, receptive, patient, approachable, welcoming, and helpful.
- Make eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes indicates interest and openness. (To improve your eye contact, make a habit of noticing the eye colour of everyone you meet.)
- Raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.
- Shake hands. This is the quickest and most effective way to establish rapport. Research shows it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of rapport that you can get with a single handshake. (Just make sure you have palm-to-palm contact and that the web of your hand touches the web of the other person’s.)
- Lean in slightly. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. In most business situations, the comfort zone is about two feet away.
Not only must you master these non-verbal cues, but during the verbal communications phase, you must follow these two golden principles:
- Use the person’s name within the first minute. When you meet someone, ask and remember their name, and repeat that name later in the conversation. And as you do, anchor the positive emotion (which your use of his name evokes) by touching the person lightly on the forearm. The impact of this brief touch comes from the fact that you have aroused positive feelings in an individual by remembering and using his name, and as you touch his arm, those positive emotions get anchored to your touch. Then at subsequent meetings you can reactivate that initial favourable impression by once again lightly touching your acquaintance’s arm.
- Listen attentively. People consider good listeners the most likable of all types of people, because they are basically ‘hearing’ themselves. Good listening skills allow you to ask sensible questions and gather valuable information to help you sell what they really need.
(Adapted from the work of Carol Kinsey Goman)