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What Really Matters with a First Impression

There are some key elements to leaving a positive, lasting, first impression; but the work doesn’t end there. Joanne Deck explains.


You’ve probably heard the warning that we don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Career and dating experts alike frequently caution us to be aware of the impression we’re making on others.

While research continues to affirm the significance of the first impression, what really matters is not only the impression we make, but also the first impression being made on us. In other words, it goes both ways, and mindful dating means being aware of both sides of the process.

Although psychologist Amy Cuddy is from the Harvard School of Business, her research on first impressions has strong relevance for those choosing to date mindfully. Based on her studies, she reports that most people upon meeting someone for the first time form two opinions about the individual. The first is how warm and trustworthy the person is, and the second is about what the individual’s intentions toward them are. It’s clear that these would be of critical interest to us on a first date, so it’s important then to look at first impressions more carefully.

The Impression You Leave

When asked about first impressions, most people think about the impression they make on other people, so let’s begin there. It’s said that men are more sight oriented than women, but listening to both genders it’s clear we all have a tendency to be influenced by physical appearance. Rather than striving to dress to impress, consider what your clothes, hairstyle and overall appearance say about you, keeping Cuddy’s research in mind. When we take pride in our appearance, it suggests we value ourselves and have confidence.

Next examine your behaviors. Many people forget to smile or avoid eye contact when they’re nervous. Greet the person with a sincere smile, and look them in the eye. Depending on the situation, a handshake may be appropriate, but gentlemen refrain from the bone-crushing clench.

A helpful approach is not to take to yourself too seriously. Don’t make it out to be more than it is, whether it’s an actual date or just a chance encounter or first conversation. Take your focus off of how you’re coming across or what you’ll say next, and pay attention to the other person. He or she will sense that you’re truly interested in what they have to say if you listen carefully and ask meaningful questions or offer relevant responses. Refrain from false flattery, and be observant of cues. It’s not hard to notice when someone has lost interest or has a point he wants to share.

Another practice many overlook is the need to align thoughts with actions and intentions. If we want to be seen as warm and approachable, we cannot be holding judgmental or critical thoughts. Making a snide, sarcastic comment to ourselves while attempting to smile and nod understandingly won’t work for long. Note that this is true whether the thoughts are about the other person or yourself. They may not be able to identify the cause of their discomfort, but insightful people will pick up on the negative energy and form a poor opinion.

The Impressions You’re Taking Away

Having addressed the impression we’re making on others, it’s equally important to consider the first impressions we’re forming of them. Stay in the moment and be aware of your reactions to them.

If impressions are formed in the first 10 seconds and firmed up within the first 30, identify what opinion you’ve formed. Then spend the rest of your time together challenging it. If you’ve written them off, look for things to like. It’s human nature to form a view and then look for evidence to support it. When we take the opposite approach, we’re more likely to see both sides. Tell yourself that your first opinion is tentative, and you’ll make the final call at the end of your time together.

How much emphasis should you place on the individual’s appearance? That depends. How important is it to you? For some, visual effect is a priority. Some make an effort to stand out or stay in fashion. If that’s you (yes, we can be mindful and appreciate killer shoes), don’t overlook an overly casual appearance—especially if your meeting was planned, such as a first date. 

Set an intention to be observant of behaviors without being judgmental. Make allowances for nervousness, and strive to put both of you at ease. This way you’ll be able to see your date in a more relaxed setting and hopefully as they really are.

It’s natural for people to be on their best behavior during an initial meeting. One way you may be able to see someone more accurately is to watch them “in between” their interactions with you. How does your date address the wait staff? What do they do when faced with an unexpected disturbance or annoyance? Pay attention to casual remarks made, but avoid criticism, which may cause him or her to modify behavior. Staying open will be more fair and gives you a better chance to see their true character.

When in doubt, give the person another chance. First impressions are powerful, but they aren’t always accurate. A “do-over” may be the start of your next special relationship.

[image: via Mait Jüriado on flickr]

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About the Author:

Joanne Deck

Joanne M. Deck is an author, success coach, and speaker, with expertise in dating, education, and New Thought concepts. She is the author of Sane Sex for Singles , a three-time winning dating guide for the new millennium. As a certified coach, Joanne has supported hundreds of people in changing their lives to look, feel, and be their very best. She has been featured on Lifetime Television’s The Balancing Act and appears frequently on radio interviews and as speaker for singles groups. Joanne is currently working on her next book, Learning to Receive with Grace and Ease, aimed at helping people become more comfortable and skillful receivers. Her observation is that most people have the giving side of the equation down, but struggle with receiving. Learn more about Joanne’s coaching and speaking at Nurture You .

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