By PREMA JAYABALAN
“I never judge anyone in just one meeting.”
Sound familiar to you? How about: “He had such a stern face, never smiled and only spoke about work. How can I work with someone like that whom I am sure is not a people person? I don’t think I want this job.”
Now, both these scenarios may sound contradicting but believe me, almost all of us are guilty of preaching the first and practising the latter at some point in our lives.
To a certain extent, first impressions definitely matter to me. I recently had a Skype call with a certain individual.
I was very nervous as I was speaking with someone of a high position from a world-famous entity. I ensured I was on the call at least 10 minutes early, checked myself a few times to see if my hair looked presentable and practised giving the right smile and a starting statement to look and sound professional.
Yes, from outside my room, I appeared to be a crazy person who was smiling profusely and repeatedly greeting the screen of my phone.
But why did I do all this? Simple. I wanted to make an impactful first impression.
When the individual came on screen and we started talking, I found her to be warm and friendly. She had a casual yet professional approach that put me at ease.
Afterwards, a person who knew her well asked me what I thought of her and I shared my thoughts. Lo and behold, this person confirmed them.
Apparently, what I had perceived of her was correct. A down-to-earth, warm person who is an empowering leader.
Now, I am eager to connect with her again as I believe I would gain some valuable insights.
Why does it matter?
Did you know that first impressions are formed in our brains within seven seconds of meeting a person?
Likewise, a potential employer could already have a picture of whether he/she is going to hire you just a moment after shaking your hand.
Research has shown that most employers make the decision on your suitability for a particular role within the first 90 seconds to two minutes of meeting you.
Sounds really fast but that’s how quick it takes for a first impression to register in one’s mind.
A first impression does not just register in one’s brain in lightning speed but also stays there for a long time.
Due to the ‘primacy effect’, people tend to give more weightage to the things they learn or see initially about you compared to the details they may acquire later on.
Hence, the initial impression you make could determine the way the relationship is going to take off.
Did you know that it can take about six months of regular contact before someone can change their initial impression about the way they perceived you?
Create that impactful first impression
Here are three significant standards by which I live that I believe have helped me make the right lasting impression.
Know your audience
I attended a talk on financial planning recently, which I had expected to be horribly boring. The keynote speaker was in his 60s and speaking on early retirement planning.
Most of us there were within the 30-45 age group, i.e. few of us had given much thought to retirement.
The speaker started off with his life experiences. He was doing really well in the aviation industry during his prime.
Then, he was caught in the massive evacuation that took place in Kuwait in 1990.
What caught my attention was his statement: “My family and I came back to Malaysia with just our luggage. At 38, I had nothing and I had to start all over again.”
This man started his talk with this anecdote, which definitely struck a chord with all of us.
He created a good first impression that influenced all of us to listen to his 40-minute speech. And quite a number of us went on to speak with him after his talk about our own retirement plans.
This scenario can happen in an interview or even in a networking session.
Knowing your audience and presenting them with stories relevant to them will create a great first impression which will result in fostering a solid connection.
Listen, listen, listen
Some of us tend to get excited when we start talking, and I am definitely one of them.
However, I realised that people don’t always want to see your mouth moving; at times they want your ears to play a part too.
During my university days, we had a coursemate who had a habit of interrupting a conversation.
She would send the chat spinning in so many different directions that it was hard to keep track.
There was this one instance when a friend was telling us how she had just broken up with her boyfriend (one of the major dramas of our university years).
Instead of listening to her, this coursemate kept on interrupting and giving examples of other stories she had heard.
If that was not enough, she dove into advising her on what to do, without even letting the poor girl explain.
Later, a few of us met our recently-single friend again and, this time, gave her the chance to fully tell her story. We listened patiently and offered advice when she asked for it.
We realised, she was more open to listen to us once she knew that we knew all the circumstances rather than jumping in with our suggestions.
In the end, we managed to help her through her dilemma. On the contrary, this particular coursemate was regarded as a person who was full of herself with no respect for others.
This is the impression she left behind and it was not a favourable one.
Always remember to listen to people. By simply asking insightful questions and listening to their answers, you will be able to sail through a conversation and win the other person’s heart.
According to Dr. Christine Whelan, a sociology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, the key to a great interview and to getting people to like you is to show that you think they are important. To do that, pay attention when they speak.
Always make eye contact and never interrupt or change the topic as you will come across as uninterested in them. Conversation is a two-way street; the other party must be given ample opportunity to speak as well.
Mix the business with the personal
Throughout my career, I have liaised with many external stakeholders.
There was this one instance when I was working with a vendor. He was doing a huge project for me and I had just gotten to know him.
During one meeting, we met right after he got back from a vacation, so I asked him where he had travelled to instead of jumping straight into business talk. His face lit up and he said Japan.
Since I had been there before, we had a short conversation on our experiences before talking about work.
That day, we connected more than just at professional level, as I had given importance to his personal story even though we were there under the pretenses of a business meeting.
What I felt must have been reciprocated because, after that day, he was more open, catered to all my changes, which were slightly more than usual (being a typical Gemini, I tend to be fickle) and threw in additional freebies.
Furthermore, being travel bugs, we shared insights on places we had visited.
A good first impression should have both the business and personal elements to it. You may be perceived as unprofessional or irrelevant if you connect only on a personal stand in a business sphere.
Likewise, if you connect just on a business stand point, you will not be memorable. Always make sure that you have a balance of both as that is the essence of a good first impression.
Making a lasting first impression is all about building a strong connection within the first few minutes in a meeting.
Use this crucial moment to surprise, intrigue and delight the person you are interacting with and you will form much more long-lasting bonds as a result.