Communication

10 scientific studies that can help you make better first impressions

10 scientific studies that can help you make better first impressions

Monday, 25 February 2019

Have you ever come away from an initial encounter with someone at a networking event with a “feeling” about how intelligent, trustworthy or professional they are? Of course you have.

But have you ever stopped and really considered what that “intuition” is based on? What happens in that one tenth of a second that it takes you to determine something of someone’s character - something psychologists call ‘thin slicing’?

 

“Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.”

Malcolm Gladwell, Author

 

When running your own business, first impressions are possibly even more important than in other professional environments. You never know when you are going to meet someone who could be the key to a transformative deal or investment. These ten scientific tips can help you make the best impression possible, whatever the situation.

 

  1. JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF EYE CONTACT IS CRITICAL

Watch two strangers converse for a few minutes and then ask yourself which is the more intelligent of the pair. How you respond will probably correlate to how much eye contact each gave the other. People who give more, particularly while talking, but also while listening, are generally perceived as having higher intellect. Just don’t overdo it, giving too much eye contact (i.e. staring) has been shown to be a trait of psychopathy! 

 

  1. IT'S NOT JUST WHAT YOU SAY - IT'S HOW QUICKLY YOU SAY IT

You might like to think you judge others only on what they say, but the pitch and speed of their voice has a lot to do with your impressions. When assessing audio from job interviews, research participants judged candidates as “less truthful”, “less fluent”, “less persuasive”, “colder” and “weaker” when their responses were slowed down, than the same interviewee tapes played in an unaltered state. There was one upside to taking your time though – these voices were judged as “more potent” than their regular speed counterparts. 

 

  1. YOU CAN TALK THE TALK BUT CAN YOU WALK THE WALK?

People who walk with a “loose” gait are seen more favourably than “clipped” or “tight” walkers, one study found. In fact, the former were attributed personality traits like “extrovert” and “adventurous”, while the latter were declared “neurotic”. Something to remember the next time you’re walking into a meeting with the boss? 

 

  1. PACE MATTERS TOO…

A separate study found that the speed at which you walk also indicates something about your “presence of mind” to onlookers, who were more likely to attribute “smartness” to those who walked at the same pace as those around them, than those walking slower or quicker than the crowd. 

 

  1. PEOPLE REMEMBER HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL

Tapping into your listening, empathic and emotional intelligence skills is a wise move when you’re looking to make positive and lasting first impressions, because people remember the first feelings they had in your company and will associate those initial emotions with your personality for time to come. Beware: making someone feel uneasy, spoken over or dismissed can have lasting effects. 

 

  1. IT'S TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT A LIMP, WEAK HANDSHAKE

Many will do it more than 19,000 times in a lifetime. Shaking hands is, in many cultures, the ubiquitous business greeting, and yet it’s laden with difficulties. So much so that 19% of Britons worry about doing it, and 54% have experienced a bad handshake in the last month alone. A Manchester University Professor who devised a formula for the perfect greeting describes the human handshake as “one of the most crucial elements of impression formation used as a source of information for making a judgement about another person”.

The rules, says Professor Geoffrey Beattie, are: “Right hand, a complete grip and a firm squeeze (but not too strong) in a mid-point position between yourself and the other person, a cool and dry palm, approximately three shakes, with a medium level of vigour, held for no longer than two to three seconds, with eye contact kept throughout and a good natural smile with a slow offset with, of course, an appropriate accompanying verbal statement.” 

 

  1. MAKE YOURSELF EASIER TO GET TO KNOW

If you’re an introvert who’s ever been misjudged as “standoffish” or even “rude”, this will resonate with you: studies have shown that people who take longer to open up fall victim to what psychologists call the “expressivity halo”, whereby we tend to prefer people who communicate in more expressive, animated fashions, than those who take longer to come out of their shells. Introverts are at their most comfortable in 1-2-1 conversations, so might be better off looking to make impressions outside group environments. 

 

  1. WE PREFER PEOPLE WHO LIKE WHAT WE LIKE

In unconscious bias terms, affinity bias, whereby you prefer one job candidate over another based on the fact they have similar backgrounds, went to the same school or share a common hobby, is bad news. But when it comes to building rapport, the so-called ‘similarity attraction hypothesis’ (finding common ground with someone) not only surpasses gender, age or any number of differentiating factors, it can also mean you make a great first impression. 

 

  1. WHAT YOU DO JUST BEFORE YOU MEET SOMEONE CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE

In her chart-topping TED Talk ‘Your body language shapes who you are’ Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy presents compelling evidence that by ‘power posing’ in private before a big event (like heading in to an investor meeting) you not only send hormones rocketing through your system that will make you feel more confident, but the other person will then perceive you as more confident. In other words, you don’t just fake it ‘til you make it; you fake it ‘til you become it.

 

  1. FIRST IMPRESSIONS STICK, BUT IT ISPOSSIBLE TO ALTER PERCEPTIONS 

Research shows that once we’ve made a judgment about someone, we tend to stick to it. Human beings like to be proven right, so it’s not uncommon to subconsciously seek evidence to back up your initial viewpoint. That doesn’t mean to say that people can’t or won’t change their minds (think back about the times your opinion of another has been transformed based on new data), but shifting those initial perceptions might prove a challenge. 

 

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