“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Maya Angelou
In business, first impressions are crucial. Once someone mentally labels you as “likable” or “unlikable,” everything else you do is viewed through that filter. If someone likes you, they will look for the best in you. If they don’t like you or mistrust you, they will suspect devious motives behind all your actions.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we decide if we like someone, trust someone, or want a relationship with someone within the first few seconds of meeting him or her. This judgment is an automatic response.; rarely do we think deeply about our first impressions. And if we do, we aren’t quite sure how to improve them quickly. So, we rehearse what we want to say; We practice witty jokes, inspiring facts, and bits of information, hoping to have something to say in those early moments of a first meeting.
However, more often than not, the power of our first impression lies not in what we say, but how we say it. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
A study by researchers Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal at Harvard University was designed to test the power of snap judgments, or first impressions. The study analyzed students’ perceptions of their professors through video clips of varying lengths.
For the experiment, Ambady and Rosenthal showed muted 10-second video clips of professors teaching to outside participants; each participant rated the teachers on 15 dimensions of effectiveness, including warmth, optimism, and professionalism. The evaluators had to make judgments based entirely on non-verbal cues.
Ambady and Rosenthal looked at the results and wondered if they could change the ratings by shortening the clips, so they cut the clips from 10 seconds to five seconds. The scores did not change. Then they cut the clips from five seconds to two seconds. Once again, the ratings did not change. They concluded that we make a snap judgment in the first two seconds of meeting someone, and we rarely adjust it even when we get more information. Another study concluded that our first impressions are correct 67% of the time, meaning that a change from our first impressions rarely occurs. In order to change our initial opinion of another, it will usually take a minimum of seven subsequent interactions.
An even more interesting fact about the study: the ratings from each video clip were compared to the student evaluations of these same teachers after the students spent an entire semester with the teacher and the results were surprisingly similar. Teachers who got poor ratings from the two-second clips also received low rankings from students who took a semester’s worth of classes. Students decide how effective teachers are within the first few seconds of walking into the room. Of course, logically, our decisions of teachers and professors should be based on their actual teaching content, not on their appearance, behavior, or presence. However, this is not how we operate.
This research reveals the importance of the first impression. Instead of being intimidated or overwhelmed, try to look at this fact with a new perspective and use it to your advantage. Learn how to take those first few seconds and supercharge your interaction with others into one that convinces another you are trustworthy, likable, confident, and someone they want to get to know. You can use the first impression to hack an entire interaction.
Three simple steps to make a positive first impression:
1. Adjust your attitude – people pick up your attitude instantly, so before you greet someone, enter an office or meeting, make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. This is also conveyed in virtual meetings too!
2. Smile – it is an invitation, a welcome sign
3. Make eye contact – looking at someone’s eye transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. In virtual meetings – be looking into the camera when you first join.
The first two seconds that you appear on any virtual meeting creates the impression that others will likely hold on to throughout the meeting. Be “on” when you first appear, and you will discover how this simple hack sets you up for success.
Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, Half a Minute: Predicting Teacher Evaluations from Thin Slices of Nonverbal Behavior and Physical Attractiveness,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67, no. 3 (1993); 431-33