Make a good first impression | Sunday Observer

Make a good first impression

1 August, 2021

It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its first impression on us. - Arthur Schopenhauer

The first impression can take less than 30 seconds to make, but it will last for months or years. Body language accounts for 55 percent of a first impression and what you say is just seven percent. To make a first impression you need to keep your arms at your sides and lean forward slightly. You may feel awkward at first, but you will look open and attentive. These are the views expressed by Lynda Goldman, author of “How to make a million dollar first impression.”

Impression formation is the process by which a person organises information about another person to form an overall expression of that person. This usually happens at an interview or when you meet someone for the first time. In a classic study, researchers told one group of students that a new lecturer joining the faculty was a ‘warm’ person. They told a second group that the lecturer was a ‘cold’ person. The students who had been told that the lecturer was a ‘warm’ person rated him more positively than those who had been told that he was a ‘cold’ person. The experiment confirmed that there were central traits to help people form an overall impression of others.

According to psychologists, first impressions are “thin slices of behaviour.” As we gain experience in life our impressions become more complex. However, as our knowledge of others has gaps, we still tend to fit individuals into personality schemas that represent particular types of people. In other words, when we become expert in something, our tastes grow more esoteric and complex. The judgments we make may or may not be accurate, but they tend to endure. If the judgment we make is a negative one, the difficulty in shifting someone’s opinion is extremely high.

Halo effect

In many ways, the snap judgments of our first impressions relate to the halo effect where the perception of positive qualities in one thing or part gives rise to the perception of similar qualities in related things in the whole. Therefore, we should know how to manage first impressions and increase the odds of making a positive one.

Consciously or unconsciously people prefer others who are similar to themselves in looks, personality, attitude, belief, and behaviour. Deprivation in our appearance, speech and behaviour are likely to affect the initial impression someone has of us. People also tend to think that others share their opinions and beliefs. Therefore you should not violate them too soon by demonstrating your differences with someone you are meeting for the first time.

First impression matters a lot when you attend job interviews. Sometimes you meet the interviewers for the first time in your life. A young inexperienced interviewee is likely to get excited when he sees the faces of the interviewers. Modern psychology has addressed this issue to face such a situation with confidence. Making a good impression involves doing the right things and avoiding a number of common mistakes that people make. Since a first impression is the starting point in a career or a lasting relationship, it is imperative that you should continually hone your communication skills.

Firm handshake

The first rule is that you should greet others with a smile and a firm handshake. With the Covid-19 pandemic, most of us avoid shaking hands with others. However, there are other ways of greeting others. When I attended an interview at a Government Department, there was a panel of interviewers. An interviewer who was about my height asked me how tall I was. When I told him my height he smiled and others wanted to see my certificates. I knew that I would be selected for the job and I got it.

Another cardinal rule is that you should be well dressed when you attend a job interview. Your dress and appearance count a lot. A few decades ago, the Government held a highly competitive examination to select officers for the Sri Lanka Administrative Service. Those who were successful in the examination were called for an interview. All the hopeful candidates attended the interview dressed in full suit except one who was wearing the national dress. The interviewers’ first impression about him was not very pleasant. However, when they learnt that he was an Oxford graduate, their attitude changed and he was selected. That means even the first impression can change under different circumstances.

Apart from job interviews, we meet strangers at weddings, funerals and various others social gatherings. If you wish to make friends, you have to be curious and genuinely interested in other people. As a rule, do not interrupt if two people are talking to each other. Remember that no one likes to be disturbed when they are engaged in a conversation. If you really want to talk to one of them, approach him very politely.

Men should be aware of the fact that their body language and spatial orientation can make women uncomfortable. Do not try to shake hands with a woman unless she initiates it. The same rule applies for hugging. Effective communicators are good listeners. When you listen to other people show that you are listening to them by asking clarifying questions. If you do not provide confirmation that you are listening, the other man will think that you are not listening.

Some people have the bad habit of relating their personal problems to strangers. It is like selling rotten fish. Nobody will want to listen to your tales of woe. If you have a business card, give it to him. One day when I gave my business card to a man I met at a party he took it and placed it on the table. Such practices will mar a good relationship at the very inception.

Always avoid discussing politics, religious and caste issues with strangers. You can discuss them with a known person. Exchange good news because people like to meet happy people. All this will go to make a first impression on the person you are speaking to.

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