It’s a cliché now to say that you only get one chance to make a first impression
In our “instant” world, this has become the case even more. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the concept of thin-slicing: making a judgement about something or someone based on a tiny slice of what we see. Much as we would like it to be otherwise, we’re often forced to make decisions on the flimsiest of information simply because there’s insufficient time to weigh the options as much as we would like to. Out puny little brains are incapable of processing the myriad of messages that bombard us throughout the day. And so what we tend to do is to compare the tiniest of fragments of the thing we see to our past experiences, and from that alone decide what it is that we’re actually looking at. The technical term for this is attribution. And it simply means that we attribute or we associate a whole raft of behaviours, skills, attitudes, and knowledge with something or someone else on the basis of almost no information at all.
A popular expression for this is “thinking without thinking”
Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s acting without thinking, or even reacting. Repeated occurrences develop in us a habit that is both good and bad. It’s good because we’re enabled to make quick decisions when they matter most. However, they’re bad because we employ the same approach where there’s more time to make a better decision, such as when we first meet someone, either professionally or socially. The problem is that thin-slicing works often enough to lull us into a false sense of security; however, that can ruin the opportunities we are given at other times to make the best first impressions when we need to the most. Since you know that thin-slicing is something that you do, you must also realize that others make similar judgements about you in the same fashion. That means that you have to be doubly sure that the impression you make in any situation will lead those you meet to draw the right conclusions about you.
How can you help them to do that?
Here are some ideas:
Make sure you’re well-groomed. That doesn’t mean short back and sides. It means making yourself presentable. For example, just because you’re mechanic doesn’t mean that you have to be dirty.
Make sure that you’re approachable. That doesn’t mean that you smile so much that it looks like the stitches were left in from a recent facelift. But it does mean that you don’t look like you’re mad at the world, missed your breakfast, of ran over someone’s cat.
Make sure that you’re humble. Apart from infrequent showers, nothing will drive people away faster than arrogance. If you seem to know it all, then no one will feel comfortable enough to offer his or her own opinion, and neither of them will even try to tell you what problems they’re trying to solve at work.
Make sure that you give people your full attention. That means no phone, no saying “hi” to someone you know; no staring off into space or away from them. It’s a kind of British thing to not face one another when having a conversation; however if you do that, then it’s a lot easier to get distracted by what’s going on around you.
Make sure that your body language is friendly. If you’re not sure what that looks like, then ask a few people you trust for their observations.
Make sure that you shake hands in a conscientious manner. In other words, do so in a way that mirrors the other person. Reciprocate according what the other person does. If the person squeezes hard, you squeeze hard. Apart from keeping your fingers from breaking, it will give the other person confidence about you. If the handshake is weak, don’t feel that you have to be the knuckle-breaker. Just respond in kind. You’d be amazed at how few people are able to do this correctly.
Speak clearly. If that means you have to practice reading Shakespeare out loud with marbles in your mouth, then visit your local toy store after you’ve finished reading this article. Some people have trouble hearing anyway. Don’t make it any more difficult than it needs to be.
Recognize that everyone you meet will be drawing conclusions about you before you say anything