First impressions are an interesting phenomenon. Just about every article or book chapter on this topic will tell you that first impressions are extremely important, so you have to ensure that you always make a great one.
Thus, they’ll encourage you to be dressed sharp, have a positive body language and pay attention to about two dozen things when you interact with a person for the first time, in order to convey the ideal message.
But is all of this really necessary? And is it really useful?
After several years of working as a communication and confidence coach, my answer is a definite “No”. In the following paragraphs, I’d like to show you why and tell you the truth about first impressions. There are several key things to realize about them.
1. First Impressions Are Correctable
Indeed, the first few minutes of an interaction tend to weigh more than any other equal span of time of an interaction in how the other person perceives you.
However, here’s the thing: most interactions extend long enough for you to be able to change the perception you create in these first few minutes if you want.
In a 30 minute conversation, the first impression is created in, let’s say, the first 3 minutes. Even if you make a terrible impression, you have 27 minutes to recover. That’s more than enough time to be able to turn around just about any perception you created.
In practice, I see this all the time: people who behave a bit awkward in an interaction with a stranger initially but, as they get more comfortable with the relation, their behavior changes, and the overall impression they convey with it.
2. The More You Fret About the First Impression, the Worse It Will Be
I see this happen frequently as well. You worry that you have to make a great first impression, so you learn all these tips and tricks for creating a great first impression.
Then you go into a social setting and your mind is so crammed with ideas to apply that you can’t even think straight. Thus, you end up feeling more nervous than usual and behaving weird, which makes you even more nervous, which amplifies the weirdness.
In reality, one of the best things you can do is to not concern yourself too much about the first impression. Try to behave in a positive manner, but don’t demand of yourself to be perfect and don’t try to apply a million pieces of advice.
This will help you be calm and centered; a state which has the best chances of helping you put your best self out there and indeed create a good perception. It’s one of the paradoxes of human relations.
3. It’s Okay If Some People Don’t Like You
I believe that authors who encourage you to pay extraordinary attention to the first impression you create often come from the mindset that you need to please everyone you meet and make them like you.
There is no reasonable motive to believe this. This is just an impractical people pleasing attitude that gets you nowhere. It makes you insecure around others, it makes relating to others a burden and it makes you waste huge amounts energy attempting to please others.
If you’re at some level in this mindframe, seek to get out of it as soon as you can. Realize that you don’t need to please everybody and that it’s okay if some of the people you meet don’t like you. Nobody died because of it.
4. What Really Matters Is Your Overall Social Interaction Style
Since first impressions are correctable, it stands to reason that what truly matters is your ability to correct them. And this ability is determined by your overall style of interaction with others.
If overall, you’re skilled socially, you can afford to make mistakes, even huge mistakes, at any point in an interaction. Trust me: it won’t really matter. Overall, you will still create a positive impression.
This is why I believe that instead of focusing on learning how to create a good first impression, it’s best to focus on developing your interpersonal skills on the whole. They will be what will carry you through a conversation and help you construct quality relationships with others.
Learn to be a good listener and learn to express yourself fluently. Develop your social awareness and develop your storytelling skills. Build and interesting life and build your social confidence. These are the truly crucial elements.
When you have the right view on first impressions, you are able to give them the exact attention they deserve. No more, no less. You put your focus and energy in the right place, and you improve your ability to relate to others. This is what I hope you’ll achieve above all.
Eduard Ezeanu helps others make the shift from socially inept to socially skilled, and from having no friends to having a rich social life. He posts bits of practical information and inspiration daily on Twitter as @artofconfidence