By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN
“Whenever we have something that we are good at–something we care about–that experience and passion fundamentally change the nature of our first impressions.” Malcolm Gladwell
The other day, I was talking with one of my students about her recent leadership job interview. She told me that she thought it had gone okay but felt that she had not made a strong first impression. “I think they could sense my anxiety as I walked into the room. It got better as time when on but I did not project confidence.” This student is a very competent candidate who has strong capabilities but she is right in her concern about the power of first impressions. As we all know from our life experience, first impressions can be wrong as we learn about people over time. The problem is that you may not be given a second chance to make a first impression.
In 2005, Malcolm Gladwell published a book on this topic called Blink. It is a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. With this in mind, it is important to be intentional in the first impressions that we create, especially in high stakes relationship. The following are 5 ways to make a good first impression:
1. Consider in advance the image that you want to convey
Whether you are meeting a new boss, joining a new committee or interviewing for a job, think about what image you want to convey and what you will say, do and wear to help you achieve this image. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so the”picture” you first present says much about you to the person you are meeting. Expectations are different among organizations so find out about cultural norms related to dress. Practice how you will achieve this at home.
2. Arrive early and plan for every contingency so you are not late
If you are late for an initial meeting, it can be very difficult to change that first impression even if you have a very legitimate excuse. Plan your arrival well in advance of when you need to be there. When I was in the Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow program, we were always told that to be on time is to be late. There is truth to this – because you have allowed yourself no margin for error.
3. Smile and be the first to extend your hand in greeting and introduce yourself
There is nothing more welcoming than a warm smile and a firm (not limp) handshake. If you are proactive in being the first to take this step, it will increase your confidence. Be in the moment and turn off your smart phone in advance.
4. Watch your body language
Use your body language to create a sense of confidence and self-assurance. In most but not all cultures, lack of eye contact, cross your arms or positioning yourself far from the others in the room can convey that you are guarded or defensive. You want to adopt body language that matches the culture and conveys a sense that you are engaged in the conversation. Work hard to not let confusion, annoyance, frustration, or lack of interest show.
5. Convey genuine interest and look for common ground
When you are meeting people for the first time, approach others with a genuine interest in the organization and/or person. This is often contagious and you will have better conversations and lasting connections when you are interested because they become interested. Project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism. Strive to learn from your meeting and to contribute appropriately, maintaining an upbeat manner and a smile.
As Gladwell has written, you have just a few seconds to make a good first impression and it can be impossible to change it. So it’s worth giving each new encounter your best shot. Much of what you need to do to make a good impression is common sense. But with a little extra thought and preparation, you can make that first impression not just good but great.
Read to Lead
Gladwell, M. (2007). Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Back Bay Books.
© emergingrnleader.com 2013