First impressions have a lot to do with who you’re currently friends with. You improperly shake hands, hold eye contact (without speaking) for too long, or trip while walking up a set of stairs. We’ve all made our share of bad first impressions. Some of us think about these events years after they’re done. We’re going to go over a quick refresher on how to make a good one happen. Finally, Dale Carnegie states, “to be interesting, be interested.” This should be your mantra.
How You Look
Sadly, how you look can determine if you’re going to have a hard life or an easier one. But those are the unchanging physical characteristics we’re talking about. The ones that you can change, matter too. If you look disheveled and don’t have a physically-apparent reason for doing so, then people are going to treat you poorly.
Take the opposite—you’re wearing designer clothes and glasses (that you don’t need), you have a nice six-figure-salary car, and always have fresh-cut hair: everyone might hate you for your lack of authenticity.
A great way to look is “approachable.” Unfurrow your brows, don’t purse your lips, keep your feet in the direction of who you’re talking to, and clean the lint off of yourself (unless your goal is to look more down to earth).
Depending on gender, age, race, religion, culture, disability, etc.—greetings may change. The general rule of thumb on this one is, if you’re unsure, revert to the greeting that is normally expected of you.
Snoop Dogg is the master of the handshake, as demonstrated by how quickly he responds to Bill Maher’s embrace. Handshakes are like playing doubles: one tennis player takes the lead while the other follows. Not too limp, not too firm, and no wet palms. If you’re at a party, hold the drink in your left hand to avoid this embarrassment.
It shouldn’t be like the movie In Time, where Justin Timberlake gambles his time left to live (a currency of time that can be seen on his arm) and lets it tick down to 0, like a reverse odometer. Then, at the last second, he gets leverage over the other man, steals that guy’s time, and shoots him.
Confidence (Not Hubris)
People are drawn to confidence. When someone is looking for directions whilst walking down the street, they will attempt to approach the kindest-looking, open-body-language-type person. This might be because confidence is an indication of authority. And, we always hear about those who love those who wear uniforms. Exuding confidence is different than hubris (e.g., akimbo stance shown by authority figures).
Reading a Room
Reading a room well is a hard thing to do unless you’re a stand-up comedian. Even then, everybody makes mistakes. Your ability to tell how well you’re being received with a topic or the content of the convo is paramount to your ability to sustain a conversation.
Some people have no idea how to read a room and learn the hard way. The best way to read a room is to watch for body language. If people are leaning away, pointing their feet in a different direction than you, or pursing their lips, then change up your strategy.
You absolutely have to remember people’s names if you want to make a good first impression and have them continue to like you. This includes pronouns, nicknames, where you met them, etc. You don’t want to look like a dotard Donald, now do you?
Religion, Politics, Vaping & Veganism
Many people will say that you should never bring up religion and politics at the dinner table. Yes. It immediately alienates people and causes tears in the flow of conversation. Even if everyone ostensibly agrees on some opinion, there might be those who just aren’t saying anything.
Did [random politician] do something stupid that every [random in-group] disagrees with? Big surprise. Keep it to yourself. Also, don’t tell people you vape and don’t push your diet restrictions onto people (regardless of your moral stance).
Awkward silences are terrible, but the last thing you want to do is feel pressured into speech. You’ll say some stupid, possibly offensive things if you try to fill the silence with your stream of consciousness. Just learn to slowly introduce other talking points without filling them with content. Ask questions. Reflect on what it is that you’re going to say before you say it.
Active listening doesn’t mean talking over someone or responding immediately. It means that you are actively participating in the conversation. That could even mean that you are just being a wallflower and chime in every so often.
When people are able to quick-wittedly toss in a throwaway joke about the subject, without derailing the conversation, then they’re actively participating. Questions indicate that you’re listening (without asking left-field questions). We’ll talk about jokes in a second.
This is one that needs to be done in a subtle way. You can’t just come out and uncontrollably shout, I like the way your eyes reflect who I am as a person! You also need to be able to recognize your identity and what the compliment means in the context of the situation.
Is it an unintentionally racist compliment? There are lots of those, from many races (especially whites). If you want to play it cool, regardless of the circumstance or how well-meaning it may sound to you—it may come across as offensive. Know who you are, what you look like your personality is, what in-groups you belong to, and who you’re talking with.
Even if you’re really funny and everyone at the office says that you should be a stand-up comedian, don’t make off-the-cuff quips (unless you are completely sure that you have a squeaky-clean tight-five to fall back on). If your first impression is a bad joke, you’re not doing well. If your first impression is a joke that no one understands is a joke—and you’re not the late Andy Kaufman—then you’ve failed.