How to master the art of first impressions

first impressions

Harvard Business School Psychologist, Amy Cuddy has made a career studying impressions for more than a decade. She famously found that we make snap judgements about others when we first meet them which are founded on two key questions:

  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person’s capabilities?

According to Cuddy’s research, up to 90% of our first impressions are based on the answers to these two questions.

Interestingly most people believe that competence is the most important factor, in our initial meeting with someone new. But in fact, the most important factor is trust. So, in order for you to make any connection, whatsoever, with this new contact, you must first communicate your trustworthiness. Even more fascinating is Cuddy's finding that if you are perceived as competent but not trustworthy, you are determined as a threat - so without trust, your competence will play against you.

Since it only takes seconds for someone to decide if you’re trustworthy and competent, and research shows that first impressions are very difficult to change, the intense pressure that comes with meeting new people is justifiable.

So now that you understand the importance of trustworthiness over competence, you are ready to take control of the small window of opportunity afforded to you when meeting a new person - first impressions. Here are the best methods to make sure your first impressions are always a success.

1. Let the other person speak first

Seems odd, but it's actually quite powerful. Showing dominance or a want to get ahead, can make the other person feel you are untrustworthy and potentially ruthless. So, let them take the lead in the conversation and ask them questions to help them along. Trust comes from sharing and the more you get them to share, the more they will trust you.

2. Use open/positive body language

Body language such as crossed arms and legs communicate negative or defensive body language. Instead, being aware of positive body language such as uncrossing arms, maintaining eye contact, and leaning towards the speaker and using them in your interactions are great ways to win a person over during first impressions.

3. Put away your phone

Did you know that looking at your phone during a conversation is not only rude but it actually makes you seem untrustworthy? Nothing is more offensive to people off like a mid-conversation text message. When you commit to a conversation, really commit. Focus all your attention on the person in front of you and make them feel special. This is crucial to building trust and making someone like you.

4. Make time for small talk

It might sound wrong, but research proves that starting conversations with just five minutes of small talk creates better results. Whilst small talk can seem dull if it's used to warm up a hugely productive first connection, that it's well worth the investment.

5. Listen

This means actually paying attention to what the other person is saying and not just waiting for your turn to speak.  Asking insightful questions is a great way to illustrate that the speaker has your full attention. If not for checking your understanding or asking a probing question, you shouldn’t be talking when the speaker is talking. This means that you shouldn’t jump in with solutions to the speaker’s problems. It’s our natural human inclination to want to help people, but what we don’t realise is that when we jump in with advice or a solution, we shut the other person down and in turn, destroy trust.

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