You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
I love people watching. It is my past time of sorts. It often happens on a train ride, airport queues, while seated next to a café window or waiting for a friend to show up in a busy piazza.
I watch people from a distance, unobtrusively, as if I am engaged in a field-study. I cast my gaze over an individual, a couple or a group subject and watch for about a minute or until the subject has passed my range of sight. People are walking billboards. They advertise who they are by the ways they project their image to the world. Like a Polaroid picture, you could capture the essence of a subject’s personality in a frame of time if you pay attention to them. From those observations, I could perceive a person’s intro or extroversion, moods, energy, confidence, interest, and approachability.
As humans, we are wired to size each other up quickly whenever we meet for the first time. Our inclination to make these snap judgments is originated from our early evolutionary need to determine whether a stranger is trustworthy. The ability to quickly recognize a person’s expression and the intent their posture is signalling could mean the difference between extending your hand or running away; the flight or flight response is our survival instinct.
First impressions tend to stick in our minds, and we find it difficult to change our opinion about others afterwards. It forms a bias which is often subjective, irrational and permanent. American actor Will Rogers who once said: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” To Roger’s words, it is essential to be aware of how we come across to others during a first meeting. Here are three areas we should pay attention to.
By How People See Us *In the blink of an eye. When we meet someone new, we immediately evaluate their face and these evaluations shape our decisions. Leading researcher Alexander Todorov from Princeton University have found that people make judgments about things such as trustworthiness, competence, and dominance for less than one-tenth of a second after seeing someone’s face. First impressions permeate everyday life and often have detrimental consequences. People who possess facial traits that evaluated in good light tend to be favoured by others to which improve social and career mobility. Though the link between facial features and character is unsupported by science, that does not stop our minds from sizing other people at a glance. That is why it is recommended to walk into any first meeting feeling confident and comfortable because it will likely show on your face.
By How People Hear Us *Voice pitch, pitch in for us. A study out of the University of Glasgow from McAleer, Todorov, and Belin (2014) suggests that we make judgments about people’s personality based on the pitch of their voice. The researchers found that men and women who spoke with higher pitched voices were rated as more trustworthy and likeable. Although these judgments may not necessarily be accurate, they do appear to be consistent. However, speaking with a higher pitch is not always a guarantee of success. In another research out of the University of Miami (Klofstad, Anderson, & Peters; 2012) found that test subjects of both genders tend to associate lower-pitched voices with leadership and select leaders accordingly. The researchers noted that women, by and large, have higher pitched voices than men and could be a factor that contributes to fewer women holding leadership roles than men. So learning to control your voice pitch should be your starting point to make an excellent first impression.
By How People Touch Us *Talking about handshakes, of course. A firm handshake is critical to making an excellent first impression. Dr William Chaplin from the University of Alabama found that a firm handshake is related to such traits as positivity, extraversion, and emotional expressiveness. On average, men had firmer handshakes than women, and women who had firm handshakes are judged as positively as men are. So, the takeaway for women is to go ahead and shake hands firmly because you would create a great impression from personal encounters with people. Another research has shown that demonstrating dominance through an overpowering handshake can negatively impact your ability to establish trust when meeting someone the first time. Being too firm can overstate your need for dominance and put people off or stay on the defensive. In other words, give a firm handshake at all times but not too firm.
So remember the next time you walk into that first sales meeting, networking event or job interview, be mindful of that first glance people set eyes on you, moderate your pitch, and give a firm handshake. Scoring well in these three areas could provide the first-based advantage of deeper or rewarding relationships with others.