4 Ways to Sabotage a First Impression

First impressions are made within seconds of meeting someone based on the feelings and senses we perceive as harmonious or hurtful from others. Negative encounters are stored in a part of our brain that helps us asses for danger in the future. It’s the same part of the brain that, from just one bad experience, reminds us not to touch a hot stove or drink orange juice after we brush our teeth. According to social psychology, behavior that seems less frequent is weighed more heavily when forming and updating impressions. When meeting someone for the first time, try and avoid the following mistakes that could potentially sabotage the tone for all future social or business interactions.

1. Violating artificial time constraints

Last week, a stranger approached me while I was sitting on a bench at Washington Square Park. He was admiring my precious ten-month-old baby and I reciprocated his sincere compliments with a friendly smile and casual exchange of pleasantries. Next thing I know, he has taken the liberty to sit beside me and begins a conversation I didn’t feel fitting for the time or place. Feeling trapped into an awkward conversation with a stranger can be unsettling and our initial casual exchange in pleasantries quickly turned to my formal departure from the park.

I suggest approaching with “I was just heading out for lunch, but was hoping I could ask you a quick question about the morning meeting notes.”

2. Creepy eye contact

Humans are the only primates with noticeable white around their eyes. It’s likely that we evolved this was in order to achieve a greater social connection by way of communicating thoughts and feeling. We’re attracted to someone’s “kind eyes” feel seduced by “bedroom eyes” just as we feel unhinged by people’s “shifty” or “darting” eyes. Making good eye contact will increase the quality of our interactions creating a unique bond that reveals to others an interest in what they have to say. Eye contact is a vital tool for making yourself appear more personable and confident, however, gazing for too long can also appear creepy. Make sure to look away about every 5 seconds. Be aware that when you do this, looking down may appear submissive or guilty. In a social situation, looking down to break gaze might actually be affective, but in business I suggest looking horizontally.

3. Conversation Narcissism

Conversations should have a certain give and take following a natural sequence relative to the environment/culture of the event. Deviating from this order isn’t deal breaking, however, be mindful of how the dialog is being received. Avoid conversations that center around yourself, regardless if the stories focus on your faults or validate your virtues. Just at it shows bad taste to boast about ones accomplishment or connections; self-deprecation can be equally as tacky. Try your best to be present, ask genuine questions and avoid internal and external distractions.

4. Poor Handshake

Once upon a time, grasping the wrist of someone’s arm was a way to check for concealed weapons. The handshake has evolved into a major contributing factor for communicating trust and harmony. Our touch releases a chemical hormone called oxytocin, which becomes a thermometer for reading the intimacy between two individuals. Handshakes can reveal innate attitudes towards ourselves and others from the dominating twist that reveals to someone you believe to be superior to the limp wrist that is associated with weak character. The proper handshake should consist of two smooth but firm pumps, with both party’s hands perpendicular to the floor, accommodated with established eye contact and a warm smile.


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