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Do first impressions really matter?

People talk a lot of nonsense about initial meetings, usually along the lines of; “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”, which I completely disagree with. If someone is not prepared to change their opinion of you over time, they’re probably not worth getting to know.

Our first opinions of people almost always change. Con artists, politicians and job candidates, all rely on giving a misleading first impression, which will invariably change as time goes by. What about the new ‘best’ friend you meet in your first week at university, or work and then spend the rest of your time  trying to get rid of?

Then there’s the childhood sweetheart you grow to despise during an acrimonious divorce, or your football club’s new star striker who turns out to be a bit of a donkey on the pitch and a complete sex pest off it. I think our first impressions always change, but most ‘experts’ seem to believe first impressions are all-important.

In a recent article, in Forbes magazine, Vanessa Van Petten writes that most people will judge you within the first second of meeting you and their opinion will most likely never change. She says: “Making a good first impression is incredibly important, because you only get one shot at it.”

Van Petten tells of Princeton University psychologist, Alex Todorov, and student researcher, Janine Willis, who had people look at a microsecond of video of a political candidate and the research candidates could predict, with 70% accuracy, who would win the election. This implied to them that people can make incredibly accurate snap judgements in a tenth of a second.

Van Petten asks how you can ensure people judge you accurately whilst  also seeing your best side. She says you need to give an authentic impression, as people can spot a fake immediately. She gives advice on how to make sure people’s first impression of you is a good one.

  • Set an intention. This is particularly important before a big event where you could meet lots of people. While getting ready, think about who you want to meet and what kind of interactions you want to have.
  • Think about what you wear. Consider your clothes, make-up, jewellery and shoes. She recommends asking trusted friends for advice and to ‘make your hair work for you’. She is particularly keen to stress that you can tell a lot about a gentleman from his watch.
  • Be conscious about your body language, which is a crucial part of first impressions. She recommends watching yourself on video to see how you hold yourself; just concentrating on your posture can help you immediately. Notice where you point your feet, the position of your shoulders and the way you shake hands.
  • Avoid bad days. If you are feeling down or anxious, people will sense it from your facial expressions, verbal clues and body language. If you’re having a bad day, stay at home.
  • Be interested and interesting. If you are open to learning about people, they will get this in a first impression and they in turn, will probably be interested in you.

Vanessa Van Petten may be a specialist in social and emotional intelligence research and development, but her advice on this occasion, is essentially; “Don’t dress like a tramp and have some basic manners.” I would add; “and switch your mobile phone off in any social situation where you don’t want to be judged a rude git.”

Nigel Phillips

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