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The Art of First Impressions: How to Make New Relationships Great

BY Sandy Lindsey TIMESeptember 22, 2022 PRINT

Our parents may have told us, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but the truth is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Judgments can be formed in as little as three seconds; use that time to “wow!” them.

Universal Truths

Whether you’re heading to an interview for the job of a lifetime or preparing for a first date, there are some things that all first impressions have in common.

First, make eye contact; it shows you’re paying attention. Maintaining eye contact throughout the conversation is a sign of respect.

Next, smile; it conveys trust and sincerity. You can also convey positive body language by sitting up straight and holding your head up to look comfortable and confident.

If you don’t feel brave, fake it. If necessary, consider yourself an actor playing a courageous character. Listen more than you talk, and the other person will think you are the best communicator they talked to today—and maybe all week.

Business Introductions

A good first impression is critical in the business world because it sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. Do you look well-tailored and crisp? A polished and professional appearance conveys intelligence, success, and trustworthiness. Research the company so you can talk about it intelligently—this will also tell you the level of formality appropriate for your attire.

Rehearse your no-longer-than-one-minute “elevator pitch,” and keep this introduction short and concise. Start with a firm handshake. Mirror the other person’s tone and body language. If they are fast-paced, keep up. If they’re relaxed, kick back and allow them to make small talk, smiling and nodding as you listen intently. Always be enthusiastic without going overboard; passion goes a long way.

First Date

Just as you wouldn’t be late for a business meeting, allow extra time so that you aren’t late for what may turn out to be the most important meeting of your life: a first date. Dress slightly nicer than you would for a second or third date. Wearing a favorite outfit will add confidence to your demeanor. Keep the perfume or cologne subtle.

Don’t arrive with a bullet point interview list, even if it’s speed dating; be prepared to discuss hobbies, interests, movies, music, travel, and, if appropriate, your job or kids, but don’t whip out the phone photo album just yet.

Two big don’ts: Don’t let your eyes or attention wander, and don’t overshare, as that can be awkward. A sense of mystery is intriguing.

Acquaintances

Whether it’s new co-workers, neighbors, or the PTA, show your enthusiasm for being part of the organization, neighborhood, or group. Learn everyone’s names as soon as possible. Offer a warm smile and brief greeting when you see them. Be friendly, but not invasive; always avoid office politics and neighborhood gossip, and change the topic if they come up. Asking for advice is a reliable icebreaker; it’s human nature to want to help—but don’t take advantage of anyone’s expertise or talent. Consider inviting the neighbors over for a housewarming party or BBQ, or your co-workers for after-work drinks.

E-Handshakes

Emails, texts, and posts on Facebook and LinkedIn often act as one’s first impression. Take a moment to review your social media profile pictures, bios, and information. Make them consistent; conflicting information sends a bad signal. Take down any potentially embarrassing data or at least make it “private.”

When handling nonverbal communication such as emails, texts, and instant messages, be prompt in your response, and eliminate any unnecessary information—shorter is better. Be clear, but not terse. Inject some personal touches or humor when appropriate, and be yourself.

Most importantly of all, proofread every sentence before you send it!

Sandy Lindsey is an award-winning writer who covers home, gardening, DIY projects, pets, and boating. She has two books with McGraw-Hill.
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