Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Making a Good First Impression

First impressions are misleading, but we all allow ourselves to be guided and influenced by them. The research suggests that first impressions are misleading, but if people rely on them, they might not be all that misleading.

We are often told that we must judge each individual as a uniquely individuated individual. As you can easily ascertain, such is an impossible task. It is too time consuming to get to know each individual as an individual. You would be spending all of your time working on whether your first or second impression had been caused by a stereotype or because he resembles someone you know or because of your indigestion.

Still, a first impression is a baseline. One imagines that some people, for whatever reason, cling to their first impressions, regardless of the evidence. And one imagines that other people are more flexible, more willing to accept the evidence and change their opinions. Obviously, the second group is more rational and deliberative. And yet, the second approach requires considerably more time and effort. Whether or not you are going to invest that much in proving or disproving your first impression will depend on the nature of your relationship and the need to do so. If you are going to hire someone or to marry someone you do will to put in the time and effort to ascertain whether or not your first impression is accurate. If you meet someone in passing at a party, and never expect to see him again, you do not feel the same need.

Anyway, we are all told, from an early age, to make a good first impression. Surely, it will not hurt. It will not harm your prospects, in a job interview or in meeting a new acquaintance.

We can and should manage the first impression we make. To do so we should know how we appear to other people. You might have gotten in touch with your feelings, and you might feel your feelings, but, that is all mental drool when it comes to the real issue: how you look to others. You cannot control every aspect of your self-presentation, but you can control some of them. Just because you cannot control it all… is not a reason not to control some of it.

Sue Shellenbarger reflects on this matter in the Wall Street Journal. As you know, many researchers have studied which facial expressions, which postures signify what.

She writes:

A happy expression, with the corners of the mouth turned upward and eyebrows relaxed, is likely to inspire trust, research shows. People teamed in an investment game with online partners whose facial images appeared friendly and reliable entrusted their partners with 42% more money than those whose partners looked downbeat and threatening, says a 2012 study by British and U.S. researchers.

She adds an important point. A facial expression that is put on at the last minute to impress someone is not likely to look sincere. If you want to improve your self-presentation, work at it while no one is looking:

Facial expressions are important even when you think no one is looking. People tend to distrust others whose “dominant face,” or habitual expression, is grumpy, disapproving or angry, says Judson Vaughn, an impression-management consultant. And suddenly switching that downbeat expression to a 1,000-watt smile, just because someone is looking, is likely to undermine trust even more, he says.

Shellenbarger reports on the techniques developed by Hilary Blair, communications consultant. Blair looks to many people like their “second grade teacher.” Thus, she tends to make a bad first impression. Thus, she works to modify the the impression she makes.

When Ms. Blair greets a new acquaintance, she avoids sending mixed messages. She stands with her hands relaxed and visible at her side, rather than hidden in her pockets or crossed defensively in front of her. This suggests that your warm greeting is genuine and you have no secret agenda or need to protect yourself, she says.

Judson Vaughn is an impression management consultant. Thus, he helps people to control their gestures:

Mr. Vaughn also advises adjusting your stance and posture, leaning or turning toward the other person to show you’re focused intently on what he or she is thinking and feeling. Rather than extending your arm stiffly to shake hands at a distance, relax your arm and lower your elbow to your side, drawing the other person closer to you, he says. “This shows you’ve made a subconscious decision to trust the person, without having spoken a word,” he says.

He still uses the techniques as a portfolio manager for an Atlanta asset-management firm. He never reaches across a table to shake hands when meeting new clients, but walks around it to greet them face-to-face and offer a relaxed, warm handshake, elbow at his side. He’s also mindful of his posture, keeping his shoulders square and making eye contact to convey confidence, he says. “These little nuances are important. They can help create a deeper bond.”

Little things matter. Small gestures can convey a wealth of information, or perhaps disinformation. Naturally, we all want to put our best face forward. Shellenbarger closes with these pointers:

  • Avoid hunching over to stare into your phone before meeting others.
  • Keep your elbow at your side when shaking hands, drawing the other person closer than arm’s length.
  • Lean forward and focus intently on the other person when he or she is speaking.
  • Stand erect with shoulders squared, balancing your weight evenly.
  • Smile in response to what others say or do, rather than grinning nonstop.
  • Remain mindful of what others are thinking and feeling.


Jack Fisher said...

Some trial lawyers say that a case can be won or lost within five minutes of the first time a jury panel sees the defendant, based on a the defendant's appearance. In fact, it is reversible error for a court to deny the right for a defendant, even one in custody, from appearing in a business rather than a jail suit. To some extent this is also true with trial attorneys, I remember one who acted the way the article suggests, but came off as being smarmy and toadying. When he had trouble controlling a slight rising pitch of his voice at the end of every statement (like someone was squeezing his wedding tackle), I knew it would not turn out well for his client.

That said, it is a trope in movies and literature where the bumbling attorney or obviously guilty defendant comes off gold: A few good men, Breaker morant, every police procedural on CBS, ever.

As pointed out, these are minimal, baseline appearances that might get someone past the door. I expect people I hire to conduct themselves like reliable human beings, and not as boors or someone setting up a long con.

Sam L. said...

Your second chance at making a good first impression may work if you don't torpedo your boat...if there are not too many holes are in it.

James said...

I will point out that considering the number of new people and new situations we run into on a daily basis every day, how or we to make it through the day without relying on first impressions?
I agree with you. By the way you obviously got the law thing wired much better than I, example; I once represented myself in a traffic ticket case. I didn't realize appealing a death sentence was so complicated.

James said...

I meant to say "how are we" not "how or we".

Ares Olympus said...

It looks like a good list. I'll keep the shaking hands one in mind. I recall one guy in my Toastmaster club with Aspergers always reaches his arm straight out and tends to do this very early as well so he'll hold that position a few seconds before the other person gets there. Maybe I can suggest this trick for him to try. I'd better see what I do first!

* Keep your elbow at your side when shaking hands, drawing the other person closer than arm’s length.

I recall some people make fun of how Trump tends to jerk a person forward in his handshakes. That's probably not good, perhaps shows a desire to keep the other person off balance? And while Trump's 29 second handshake with Macron might be a little too intimate, it would seem to suggest mutual respect and affection.

Myself, I try to say I judge people more by what they say than how they look, I'm sure I'm very influenced by appearances.

Jack Fisher said...

James, I'll send you all the Writs of Execution you can use in, well, several lifetimes.

James said...