OF ALL THE SOCIAL SKILLS that you can learn, there are few that match the importance or simplicity of the first impression. It is rare among people to find thoughts that go beyond or even question the initial emotional root. What comes first is the feeling, followed swiftly by the rationale – and it is within this flaw that the strength of the first impression lies.
When we are meeting someone for the first time, their conception of us is entirely non-existent until they see us with their eyes, hear us speak and engage with our presence. Therefore, how we carry ourselves in those moments creates, in part, the entire impression they have of us.*
Imagine if you will, you are meeting someone for the first time. They shift into the room, their hunched shoulders drawn into their chest and their face a cast of inexpression, little obscuring the anxious dance of their eyes. When they speak, their voice drowns before it reaches your ears and their handshake has all the life of a corpse. Somewhere in the spectrum of this arid interaction you would doubtless feel that this person was, to list a few; untrustworthy, unlikeable, unpleasant and unimpressive. This, when coupled with your innate inclination towards confirmation bias, would look for validation of these beliefs in the rest of this persons’ behaviour – and this poor, anxious sod would be forever condemned by your brisk and ruthless judgement.*
Now on consider instead, meeting the tall, striding newcomer with the firm grip, smiling eyes and the voice that sails across the room. Their face, dressed with emotion has you engaged and intrigued and within seconds you have no doubt decided that this person is likeable, attractive, confident and charismatic. And, as with the hapless wreck we met earlier, you would surely look for these beliefs to be validated in the rest of Mr Charming’s behaviour – and they would ride on this wind for the rest of the night.
This stuff goes double for meeting women. Especially in the sea.
Now, it would be all too easy to look at each of these examples and conclude that the difference between the two comes down to the innate confidence of each person. Of course, this may be true – but in the grand scheme of first impressions, confidence in itself isn’t actually necessary. What is necessary is one part skill, nine parts letting go of your bullshit. Return to what I mentioned earlier about first impressions being someone’s non-existent idea, upon which your actions impose an idea. First impressions are an empty cup, which our behaviour goes to great lengths to fill. And what does this tell us:
- If our behaviour decides the first impression we give people, then the first impressions we give people tell us an enormous amount about how we’re letting ourselves fall short.
- If we’re letting ourselves fall short in our first impressions, then what does this say about what we believe about ourselves?
- If our beliefs are negative and are in turn causing us to give off poor first impressions – how well do these beliefs correlate with reality?
Given that anyone can learn to walk with confidence, to speak with clarity, hold eye contact and facially express the emotions of their conversation – I have little interest in writing an article explaining the minutia of that. The practical side of first impressions are as easy as they sound, you simply do them. What I do want to address, though – is why you aren’t already doing these things. Why are you getting in the way of yourself doing something that is incredibly easy?
In a room of people who have no conception of who you are, why are you deciding to act in a way that presents you in a negative, lifeless fashion? Perhaps, could it be that you’re already deciding what these people think of you? That instead of not knowing who you are, that they instead know, as surely as you do, that you are uncharismatic and unlikeable; and that, because of this, you should not do anything to draw attention to yourself?
You see, the art of first impressions has less to do with the actions you take and more to do with the certainties you hold about yourself, and how you carry these certainties with you. The truth of any first impression is that this is the first time this person has met you – there is nothing, absolutely nothing they know about you. And therefore, there is nothing they know about you that makes you unlikeable – except what you bring to them yourself and the actions that follow. The difference between the slovenly corpse-like creature and the force of charisma I described earlier was simply that the former was acting from a place of belief, and the second wasn’t – which allowed him to engage in the skill of socialising freely. A negative belief will make you act negatively, whereas no belief will just as likely make you act with confidence as a confident belief would. This is because instead of focusing on you, you’re focusing on the skill. Which is, if you’re looking for a guide:
- Strong eye contact.
- Firm handshake.
- Good posture and gait.
- Strong tonality.
- Wear your emotions on your face.
- Introduce yourself to people. Be the person who does that – as it’s the thing most people can’t.
It is that simple.
You are only what you take with you.
The truth, in any social interaction, is that most people are nervous and unsettled and don’t want attention to be drawn to them, lest they are exposed as the flawed person they are. When you carry your poor beliefs about yourself into this environment, you join the people who drift into the background, leaving a poor impression, or even worse – none at all. But this truth, of universal social discomfort, should be empowering because it makes it all the more simple to be the presence that stands out.
All that’s needed to make a good first impression is to immediately address the first impression you have with yourself. Do you know that you’re unlikeable? Or like the people in the room, do you really have no idea? Accept your nervousness and question your thoughts. Am I unlikeable? Am I unimpressive? Or do these people know nothing about me – and is this a chance to put myself out there – and expose those beliefs for what they really are.
Then you’ll find, that the first step of any first impression, is to have none about yourself.
*An exception to this, of course, would be if they knew of you through a third party. But even then, the same principles still apply.
*See: Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink.