First impressions are fraught with anxiety whether you are going for a job interview, meeting the parents, meeting a new friend, starting a new job, or……
So many things to think about all at once: smile, stand up straight, look people in the eye, don’t say anything dumb, don’t look rigid, don’t be overly friendly, don’t be cool…
We are judged on our credibility, confidence, empathy, and trustworthiness – and less by what we say.
Do you realize that 93% of what you are communicating is nonverbal?
How long does it take to make a first impression?
- Seven seconds,
- Two seconds, or,
- 1/10th of a second?
It can take as little as 1/10 of a second to make an impression that can last forever.
The Science of People Research Lab conducted a survey of 209 people on their opinions of first impressions, here is what their participants indicated:
- First impressions are very important – 95%
- They can instantly spot a “phony” the minute they meet him or her – 61%
- They make a good first impression – 79%
- First impressions of others are accurate – 68%
- Eyes are the first things people notice when meeting someone – 44%
- First impressions happen in seven seconds – 40%
Do – overs
It is hard to change a first impression because of a psychological phenomenon known as the “fundamental attribution error. What this means is, when we see someone doing something, we link it to their personality rather than the situation the person is in. For example, you could be having a bad day – what we do is, assume that the behaviour is really who you are (your personality), rather than thinking that you are having a bad day. This is what makes it so hard to overcome the negative first impression.
Can you change their mind about you?
Yes, it is possible, but it will require work, patience, and time.
So, what can you do to change someone’s mind?
Change their thinking with surprise behaviour – do the unexpected. A change in behavior may get your colleagues/friends/family to take notice and start questioning their impressions of you. However, this change must be consistent over time. It’s important to provide evidence that their first impression of you was wrong. For instance, if your behaviour was coming in late to work, come in early – everyday. You need to show evidence that you’ve changed, and over time their impression will likely change.
Wait it out. Sometimes the only thing you can do is just wait it out.
This is 93% of our communication to others, here’s how it breaks down:
- 7% of our communication is being conveyed through the words we speak
- 55% is through posture, gestures, and facial expression
- 38% percent is through tonality (tone and pitch of your voice)
While the words we choose to say are important and can have a significant and permanent effect on others, your nonverbal language is getting more attention. It is important to align your nonverbal and verbal messages otherwise you are sending mixed messages.
A smile reflects confidence and tells others that you are approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy. Have you noticed that when you smile at someone they will smile back? That’s because a smile triggers a positive emotional response.
Make eye contact with others because it transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (To improve your eye contact, practice noticing the eye color of everyone you meet). If you fail to make eye contact, you will minimize your impact and make people feel uncomfortable and less trusting of you.
Posture that takes up space and opens the body, activates a sense of power. In meetings, it is posture rather than position in an organization, that conveys power to others.
Use of hands and gestures
There has been a lot of research done on hands and use of gestures. Mark Bowden has written about the importance and impact of body language and the use of hands and gestures. He talks about a “truth plane”. This is an open-hand gesture at belly height that creates feelings of trust, credibility, and confidence when communicating. If people cannot see your hands, they begin to feel mistrustful of you.
Vanessa Van Edwards, the founder of Science of People, asked 760 volunteers to rate TED talks and determine why some had millions of viewers and others didn’t. The volunteers found five nonverbal patterns – amazing since this is a talk!
- The volunteers rated speakers comparably on charisma, credibility, and intelligence, whether or not the sound was on.
- Hand gestures make you seem more charismatic. Volunteers looked at the number of hand gestures in each talk and ranked the talks. The talks that had the most hand gestures correlated with the talks that were overall favorites. Why? It may be due to the speakers engaging more than one sense. Their gestures maybe used to emphasize points and show enthusiasm. The one gesture that is a “no, no”, is finger pointing because it is an aggressive gesture that suggests that the leader is losing control of the situation – and it feels like parental scolding or playground bullying.
- Vocal variety showed better ratings on charisma and credibility. Why? Because the brain is more fully engaged.
- The longer someone smiles, the higher their intelligence ratings went. Why? Relatability! Speakers who smiled from stage seemed more human to those who were watching. Viewers could say, “Ah! This is someone I could get to know.”
- People had largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds of the speaker taking the stage and beginning to speak.
Don’t do this if you want to create a positive impression!
The following behaviours send a negative impression that signify insecurity, a lack of confidence and restlessness.
- Biting nails
- Getting distracted
- Faking a smile
- Looking somewhere else instead of the person you are talking to.
- Crossed arms
Verbal/nonverbal cultural communication
Body language is also culturally based, so depending on where you are in the world, there may be different meanings and expectations regarding verbal and nonverbal norms.
What is it you want to communicate? If we know that 93% is nonverbal communication, we need to pay attention to our body language as much as we pay attention to our words.
If you are not getting the results you want in your work environment or your personal life it may be your body language.
Good body language is a skill that can really improve leadership results. It can convey competence, warmth, and empathy. It can also help motivate staff, create bonds with audiences, present ideas with added credibility, and authentically project your personal brand of charisma. It makes you a more approachable human being at work or in your personal life.