Research shows that first impressions are even more important than you think:
The findings indicate that getting off on the wrong foot has devastating long-term consequences.
And once first impressions are set, they’re very hard to change.
Via David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart:
A study in 1997 by Wilkielman, Zajonc, and Shwartz created first impressions in subjects with images of smiles and frowns. The people in the study saw a photo of either a happy or a sad face flash briefly on a screen and then were shown an unfamiliar Chinese character and asked to say whether or not they liked it. People tended to say they liked the characters that followed the smiles over the ones that followed frowns, but later on when they saw the same characters with the expressions preceding them reversed, they didn’t change their answers. Their first impression remained.
Most important part of a job interview? Yup, the first impression:
By careful analysis, the researchers found that all of these factors influenced the final interview ratings, and that this was due to the way they shaped first impressions: after those first few minutes, there was little extra influence of these qualities across the rest of the interview.
So they’re really important. But don’t get too worried; there are a number of simple things you can do to make a great first impression.
Let’s get to it.
1) Assume They Already Like You
Be “socially optimistic.” Assume people already like you and they probably will:
Social optimists, of course, are in the happy position of expecting to be accepted and finding that, generally speaking, they are. Social pessimists, though, face the dark side of what sociologist Robert K. Merton—who coined the expression ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’—has called a ‘reign of error’. Expectation of rejection leads to the projection of colder, more defensive behaviour towards others, and this leads to actual rejection.
(For more on how to get people to like you, click here.)
Okay, let’s get slightly sneakier…
2) Drug Them
I’m not talking about anything illegal or scandalous here. Be like a loving mom and drug them with tasty food. A cheeseburger can be a powerful influence tool:
The consumption of proferred food induces a momentary mood of compliance toward the donor that is strongest at the time the food is being consumed and that decreases in strength rapidly after the food has been consumed.
Neuroscience research shows that two cheeseburgers is the pleasure equivalent of one orgasm.
Or just offer them some coffee. The smell of java makes us nicer to one another:
In a preliminary study, passersby in a large shopping mall were significantly more likely to help a same-sex accomplice (by retrieving a dropped pen or providing change for a dollar) when these helping opportunities took place in the presence of pleasant ambient odors (e.g., baking cookies, roasting coffee) than in the absence of such odors. Participants also reported significantly higher levels of positive affect in the presence of pleasant odors.
(For advice on how to best use caffeine — from a neuroscientist — click here.)
And some ways to click with others are obvious, but even more critical than you think…
3) That Handshake Matters
Definitely shake their hand:
The study was led by Beckman Institute researcher Florin Dolcos and Department of Psychology postdoctoral research associate Sanda Dolcos. They found, as they wrote, that “a handshake preceding social interaction enhanced the positive impact of approach and diminished the negative impact of avoidance behavior on the evaluation of social interaction.”
In fact, a firm handshake was correlated with being hired after a job interview:
Five trained raters independently evaluated the quality of the handshake for each participant. Quality of handshake was related to interviewer hiring recommendations.
(To learn what people can tell about you from your handshake, click here.)
So your handshake should be firm. Should you make yourself sound good or be modest?
4) Spin Things (Just A Bit)
Speak positively about yourself. It’s actually better than being modest:
Overly positive statements about oneself were beneficial only when perceivers had no reason to believe they were unfounded. In addition, conveying self-knowledge was more beneficial than being modest. The results are consistent with the presumption of calibration hypothesis, which states that confidence is compelling because, barring evidence to the contrary, perceivers assume others have good self-insight. Therefore, to make the best impression, people should be as positive as is plausible to perceivers.
Frame the conversation with a few well-rehearsed sentences regarding how you want to be perceived. This will end up being the structure the other person forms their memories around.
The take-home point is that having the appropriate schema or context for encoding information helps us understand and recall this information, but only if we get the schema at the outset.
Sound shady? Not really. Research shows that putting your best self forward actually reveals your true self more accurately:
In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.
(To learn a shortcut to bonding with a romantic partner, click here.)
Think you should be suave like James Bond when trying to make friends? Don’t do it…
5) Don’t Play It Cool
You know who makes a better first impression than you do? People with racist beliefs. Seriously. You know why?
Because they have to put in effort to not come across badly. Going the extra mile to come across well has positive effects:
We tested the hypothesis that, ironically, Blacks perceive White interaction partners who are more racially biased more positively than less biased White partners, primarily because the former group must make more of an effort to control racial bias than the latter.
What’s the best way to make that effort? Simply show interest. Listen to what people have to say and ask them to tell you more:
Compared to control participants, participants who received a question rated their debate counterpart more favorably, were more willing to engage in future interaction with their counterpart, and acted in a more receptive manner.
(For more on how to be the kind of person people love to talk to, click here.)
Okay, we’ve got a number of good insights. Let’s round them up.
5 research-backed tips on how to make a great first impression:
- Assume they already like you and they probably will.
- Drug them! Meet over food or coffee, if possible.
- Always shake their hand. It makes a big difference.
- Being positive about yourself is better than being modest.
- Don’t play it cool. Show interest and ask questions.
First impressions make a huge difference but improving them is quite simple. Even if social skills aren’t your strong suit, you can make a solid connection with people. As Oscar Wilde said:
It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
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Read next: How to Be Cool: 5 Research-Backed Tips
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