First Impressions Count

First impressions are so immediate and significant you must always stay alert and beware of yourself.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying."

Today we have but a few seconds of an interaction to make a good first impression. We need to be aware of our body language and the nonverbal cues that we may unconsciously send. We can sense displeasure, joy, hurt or indecision in a friend or colleague simply by their facial expression, posture, body movement, and eye communication. A well-quoted study by Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D. conducted at UCLA revealed that over 55 percent of a listener's first impression of a speaker is based solely on body language. I am sure you can recall examples of speakers that you tuned out, or men or women that you did not approach before they ever spoke a word. Unfortunately these folks unconsciously allowed their bodies to speak for them.

We may not always be correct about our initial impression of a person after our brain receives and understands more information. But that first or "gut" impression is immediate because our primitive brain or limbic system is alerted by early smells, sights, sounds or touches. As our higher brain or cerebral cortex processes additional information, our gut impression may change.

Because of how immediate our first impression is we must look at the detail of how we present ourselves, for example, wearing a strong cologne to a business meeting might send the message we view it as more of a social interaction than business. When we sit in our chair do we lean back and appear disengaged and therefore not be asked for our thoughts about the topic at hand.

Discover how easy it is to alter the first message you deliver. Be a detective. Observe yourself for several days. Observe yourself during casual, daily situations at home and at work, and then again during intense exchanges in both environments. Once you are aware of your habits answer the following questions.

  • Do you stand firmly grounded in social situations or do you stand with your hands clasped in front of you, put your hands in your pockets or lean against a nearby wall or table?
  • Do your eyes dart to see who has walked by as you speak to your friend or do you maintain eye contact as your colleague expresses her point?
  • Do you feel awkward looking directly into a person's eyes during a conversation?
  • Do you fiddle with an object when you are uncomfortable?
  • Do you find yourself smiling or nodding your head affirmatively when you disagree with the speaker?
  • Do you hate dressing professionally on a casual Friday?

The good news is that you can change a behavior once you are aware that it exists. Give yourself permission to be more open.

In future issues we will discuss more specifics on making that first great impression