“It’s pretty simple, pretty obvious: that people’s first impressions of people are really a big mistake.” ~
Whether it’s right or wrong, research shows that people generally form their “first impression” of you within a matter of a seconds of meeting you for the first time.
According to the Association for Psychological Science‘s Eric Wargo, that includes opinions about your personality, your character and more.
“Forget whatever figure you may have heard,” Wargo writes. “Not to intimidate you, if you happen to be preparing for a job or grad school interview, or a blind date, but new research shows that you may need to have your act together in the blink of an eye.”
Wargo points out a series of experiments done by two Princeton psychologists, who found that it only takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger’s face–and perhaps more surprisingly, getting to know that person better doesn’t often change those first impressions. On the plus side, longer exposures were found to increase confidence in a person’s judgments.
So why do first impressions matter?
Human nature isn’t always kind. The way we see a person’s facial appearance has a big effect on how we treat that person–and the way people see our faces directly affects how we get treated.
The fact is that people who are considered attractive tend to do better in nearly every aspect of their lives. Just look to the legal system for confirmation, Wargo says.
“People with ‘mature’ faces receive more severe judicial outcomes than ‘baby-faced’ people,” he writes. “And having a face that looks competent (as opposed to trustworthy or likeable) may matter a lot in whether a person gets elected to public office.”
I know, it’s not fair. There are plenty of physically beautiful people who are not so pretty on the inside, and there are plenty of amazing people who might not make the best first impression based on their appearance.
We’ve all had our off-days (or weeks or months) and I’m no exception. Personally, I gained a lot of weight during pregnancy and struggled to take it off–heck, I’m still working on those last few pounds.
But when my scale tipped out at my highest weight ever, I was very aware of the fact that I was being treated differently because of my appearance. People made assumptions about me that weren’t true–that I was not intelligent, that I was lazy, that I was not competent. It was very hurtful and frustrating, for sure, but definitely motivation to change and get back to being my fabulous self.
So, aside from being YOUR fabulous self, how can you make a great first impression every time? Just learn how to accentuate your assets and work what you’ve got.
Answer these questions to help you plan a positive and memorable first impression:
- Do you smile and make eye contact? Your facial expressions can be an asset or a liability. A real smile is seen all over your face. It shows not only by the shape of your mouth but through your eyes. Do you genuinely smile when you meet others? Studies show that smiling faces are generally appear more attractive than those that are frowning or have a neutral look, and people will feel warmer toward a smiling person in most societies.
- What do you say? When you first meet someone, are you very quiet? Do you just say, “Pleased to meet you,” or do you chatter on incessantly about whatever’s on your mind at the moment? Your social skills and ability to communicate determine how you come across when you first meet someone. Make your first verbal exchanges with people memorable. If one of your assets is that you can tell a good story, go ahead and tell one.
- What kind of mood do you portray? Are you serious or funny? Do you look like you’re waiting for something to happen, like you want to fade into the wallpaper, or like the class clown? Your mood shows your personality to people and could make either a forgettable impression or a fantastic one that will precede you for years to come.
- How do you look? In most situations, there’s no need to be dressed in the most expensive or trendiest fashion, but is your look clean and well put together? Or did you skip ironing your wrinkly shirt or hope that no one notices that you didn’t shave? Maybe you didn’t plan ahead what you were going to wear to an event and just threw on the first thing you grabbed. If you’re neat, clean, and your clothes reasonably decent-looking, you’re on the right track to making a positive impression. Find clothing that flatters you–not too tight or too loose, and find colors that work for your skin tone. Don’t be a slave to fashion, if that’s not your bag, but do consider current styles and pick up a few pieces to update your wardrobe each season if you can.
- What kind of effort do you make? When getting to know someone, do you ask specific questions of the person to show your interest? Try finding common ground by asking how they know the host or what they do for a living.
- What do you want people to remember about you? This might be the most insightful question of all. Who do you want to be? If you know the answer to this, you’ll be able to adjust your behaviors, mood, and appearance to give the impression you truly want to make. You can use your assets to make a well-considered statement about yourself.
One thing is for sure: all your life, you’ll have opportunities to meet new people and make an impression. Plan now to make the most of your assets. You just might be unforgettable.
What are your best tips for making a great first impression? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below!