Whether you’re meeting a prospective client, interviewing for a job or meeting someone to negotiate or mediate a legal matter, first impressions matter. They set the tone of the relationship between you and the other person or people. If you blunder in the future you may be able get back on track but that’s not a situation you want to be in.
Minda Zetlin has a number of suggestions on how to make a good impression without saying a word in an article in Inc. magazine.
- Be on time. Arriving late can send a very bad message. The other person may think you don’t respect them or their time. You may be perceived as sloppy or unprepared. Different cultures value punctuality differently. If someone is late in seeing you don’t jump to the conclusion they’re not worthy of your time.
- Dress appropriately. How you look is a big part of the impression you make so make sure your attire is in line with expectations. What’s the setting for the meeting? At a bar after work, a major law firm conference room, breakfast meeting on a weekend? Dress for the occasion. Be well-groomed and avoid heavy perfumes or scents.
- Get in a positive mood. Your facial expression and body language betray your mood. Find a way to get in the right mindset by taking a walk around the block, give yourself a good stretch or take deep breaths.
- Put a genuine smile on your face. It’s one of the most powerful tools for making a good first impression. It puts the other person at ease and will make him or her more receptive.
- Make eye contact. Looking someone in the eye if generally perceived as telling the other party you’re engaged and open. However, depending on the culture of the other party you may want to keep eye contact to a minimum. Studies have shown that those from East Asia perceive another’s face as more angry, unapproachable and unpleasant when making eye contact compared to those from a Western European culture. In any case, don’t stare.
- You need to get the handshake right. If it’s too strong it will seems you’re trying to prove something or dominate the other person. If it’s too soft you may be seen as weak. Adding your left hand to the top of the handshake can seem domineering.
- Stand up straight or lean slightly forward. Slouching or having hunched shoulders can make you appear unhappy or unconfident. Leaning slightly forward toward another, especially if he or she is speaking, shows attentiveness.
- Use open body language because it signals you’re open and receptive. You may be doing things harming your first impression without even realizing it. Do not: cross your arms or legs, stick your hands behind your back or in your pockets or hold things in front of you such as a portfolio or handbag.
- Respect personal space. Generally Americans prefer more personal space but if you’re meeting with someone from a different culture if he or she gets a little too close to you for comfort, don’t assume it’s a showing of lack of respect. When in doubt, give more space.
- Focus on the other person. Following all the advice above won’t do you any good if you don’t focus on the other person and what he or she is saying. If you don’t understand something, ask. Making assumptions that end up being incorrect won’t help the relationship.
You’ll get better at this with practice. You may feel awkward but ask a friend or colleague for some rehearsals. Get some feedback to fine tune your approach. A good first impression is a valuable asset that’s worth the effort.