You’ve probably heard that it takes five seconds to make a first impression. While this hardly seems fair, it is what it is. Humans tend to not only judge people quickly, but first impressions are often based on things that really don’t matter. Instead of looking deep within a person, we look at things like what a person is wearing, their grooming, skin, hair and how shiny their shoes are, for example. In fact, the greatest ways we are perceived by others is on non-verbal communication, which includes image and body language.
Well, today, I got some additional news about first impressions from my friend and Etiquette and Protocol expert Melissa Leonard that is really going to freak you out: According to a Harvard University study, not only do we have five seconds to make a good first impression, but, if that first impression is bad, it takes eight subsequent positive encounters to change that person’s negative opinion of you.
Are you as shocked by this as I am?
Invariably, we’ve all made a bad first impression, either because we’ve been caught off guard, didn’t immediately connect with someone or weren’t presenting ourselves the best way we could. We could all scream that these first impression statistics are unfair and that we shouldn’t be judged so highly on first impressions, however, if you turn the tables and can recall an instance where someone gave you a bad first impression, think about how long it took to change your opinion of them, if it changed at all. Like it or not, people judge us and we judge people immediately and there is little that can be done to change this fact, it’s just how we’re wired as humans. So, what do we do? After all, there is no way we can guarantee that we’ll always make a good first impression and we certainly can’t spend our lives trying to please everyone.
The first thing I would suggest is focusing on the areas of your life where good first impressions are important. At a job interview, a positive first impression is obviously important, however, with someone you’ll probably never see again, like the mom who throws you shade at the park while with your kids, does it really matter? Not really.
The next thing that is important when it comes to first impressions is to think more inwardly than outwardly. When we worry too much about first impressions as how others perceive us, it can run us ragged and we can quickly lose our sense of self in the process. Like I said, there is no way we’ll ever please everyone. Yet, when we start from within and learn how to outwardly express who we are through our image, we have a lot more power.
When I work with clients, I always ask them to tell me their three buzz words, these are words that describe how they want to be perceived by others. Because I work mainly with professional women, I often hear words like, powerful, capable, promotable, smart, savvy, approachable and accomplished, to name a few. When helping a client with their wardrobe, I ask them to think about those buzz words they wish to convey. If they feel in their clothes how they want to be perceived, I know we have a match and I know that their buzz words will be communicated to anyone they interact with. This is an important step in helping a woman change her image because how we feel, and, therefore, the energy we put forth, has greater power to effect someone’s perception of us than if we tried to figure out the right thing to wear so it pleases everyone around us. Have you ever put someone on and noticed a complete shift in how you walk, interact, the confidence you feel and how you engage with others? This energy translates to others and is the key to a positive first impression.
Yes, first impressions are highly unfair, yet, when you stop chasing first impressions by thinking outwardly and, instead, focus on the energy you put forth, a positive first impression becomes much easier to achieve, plus, you’re being authentic simply by being you.
The last thing I want to say about first impressions is that at some point you may just have to say, “screw it.” There will be times where, no matter what you do someone is going to get a bad first impression of you. Yet, I have found, in situations like this, the more you accept yourself the better off you’ll be and, interestingly, the fact that you have chosen to accept yourself, despite the fact that this person doesn’t, will actually have the power to change how you are perceived by them. It will sort of irk them that their opinion of you doesn’t matter. As an image and style expert, I understand the power of first impressions and how important they can be in our success, yet, at the same time, to allow others to have that much influence over how you perceive yourself, can be dangerous and a colossal wasted of time. No, this doesn’t give you the permission to be a big smug jerk or to show up to your corporate work environment wearing sweatpants, yet, if you’re acceptably dressed, are happy with how you look, I wouldn’t worry too much about the opinions of others.