You walk into an expensive restaurant and approach the hostess station to confirm your reservation.
The hostess is texting and has her back to the customers waiting to be seated.
Her blouse is wrinkled, she has chipped nail polish, and she’s chewing gum.
Part of a questionable tattoo shows around the collar of her blouse.
The phone rings; she picks up the receiver and slams it down without answering it or stopping her texting.
When a customer standing at the desk tries to get her attention, she turns her back completely on the customer.
If you’ve never been to this restaurant before, what’s your expectation of the service likely to be? Even if the food and later service turn out to be stellar, you will always have a negative first impression, created before one word was said.
Psychologists at Princeton University conducted a study of university students who were shown images of people for 100 milliseconds, and were asked to judge people on attractiveness, likability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness.
The students made judgment calls in less than a second. Even when given more time, the initial impression remained the same.
So your grandmother was right: First impressions count. These things could be sabotaging you before you say a word:
We’re not talking facial features, but wrinkles in your clothing. If you show up to a business meeting in a shirt that is crumpled and wrinkled, you convey the impression that the person you are meeting with isn’t important.
You could also be judged as lazy or ambivalent. If you have never learned how to properly iron a shirt, it’s time to learn. It’s a life skill everyone needs to know. And while you’re at it, invest in a lint brush.
People chew gum for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s a stress technique. Maybe it’s a smoking cessation thing. Maybe it’s an antidote to the garlicky Caesar salad at lunch.
There is nothing wrong with gum, unless you’re smacking it and blowing bubbles as you walk into a business meeting. Chewing gum conveys an impression of immaturity. Ditch the wad before the meeting … in the garbage can, please.
- Too much makeup
Heavy makeup, or makeup more suited to a night out, sets off alarm bells with some people who ponder what the person is hiding with all the paint.
- Scuffed shoes
Shoes are an overlooked detail that can convey a negative impression. Shoes polished to a high shine convey attention to detail.
Scuffed shoes, heels that are worn down, or frayed laces convey that good enough is good enough. It seldom is. (And if your belt is ragged, buy a new one.)
- Poor posture
Your mother was right. You need to stand up straight. Head up, shoulders back and relaxed, and you look confident, competent, and positive. The added bonus, your clothes will hang better and look more polished.
Enter a room with slumped shoulders and head bent, and the only positive impression you’ll generate is to your chiropractor’s bank balance.
- Scents: body, cologne, and other
Many people have sensitivity to fragrance and scent, which can trigger everything from migraines to nausea. Also, imposing your fragrance on the general population is inconsiderate.
Conversely, if the scent you are exuding is body odor with a side of sweat, people are going to wonder if you’re up to the job. Make sure you are washed and pressed, but leave the heavy perfumes and aftershave for the nightclub.
And if your clothes smell like kitty litter, cigarettes, or other, um, smoke, then invest in a good dry cleaning before your meeting. Smoking is becoming less and less socially acceptable, and other types of odor are not going to help cultivate a good impression.
- The eyes have it
Are you making eye contact, paying attention, and focusing on the person in front of you as he or she walks toward you, or are you texting, looking around the restaurant, checking the score on the big-screen television, or checking out the beautiful people?
Lack of eye contact telegraphs lack of interest, insecurity, and even arrogance.
Dude, put the tunes away. If you want to listen to tunes on the way to the meeting, more power to you, but they need to be put away before you walk in. They convey indifference, immaturity, and lack of focus.
This seems counterintuitive given the other items on this list, but overgrooming can convey arrogance and lack of attention.
Are you constantly checking yourself out in the mirror while you’re waiting? Are you more focused on yourself than on the people around you? Where’s your focus going to be on my project?
- Handshakes speak volumes
So you’re about to say your first words. You’re standing straight, you’ve got eye contact, you’re smiling, and then you offer a handshake that’s like a cold fish or, worse, an invitation to arm wrestle.
One of the biggest pet peeves in an informal social media poll was a limp handshake. Grasp the other person’s hand firmly, but not so hard you’re breaking bones. The double handclasp is overkill and can be off-putting.
A semi-bone crushing handshake is all about exerting control and isn’t a good start to a meeting. According to a study commissioned by Chevrolet Europe, the optimal handshake length is two to three seconds.
There are a number of other things: Be on time, put your phone away, chew with your mouth closed, don’t interrupt, listen actively … you know, all those things your mother told you when you were a kid.
It can be tough to overcome a negative first impression, so pay attention, smile, and get out there with your best face forward.