Bad First Impressions: Don't Let Them Define You

Bad First Impressions: Don't Let Them Define You

It takes less than seven seconds to form a firm impression and it is no secret that they do not always go according to plan. We have all experienced a bad first impression whether with a peer, interviewer or prospective client. After making an unfavorable first impression, it is common to dwell on the interaction, incessantly replaying it over and over. However, rather than overanalyzing the situation and thinking about what you could have done differently, take a different approach. Create an action plan and make it a priority to change that person’s initial impression of you or your firm. It is not an impossible feat; the key is to master skills needed to correct the situation. With that being said, don’t expect miracles. It takes time and commitment. If you are willing to put in the effort, that bad first impression or initial meeting will not define you.

You spend hours planning a meeting with a potential client, rehearsing Q and A sessions for an interview, or making sure everything is packed and planned for the tradeshow that has been on the calendar for months. Then, you stumble over your words, have a stain on your shirt, or can’t stop thinking about the stressful phone call, bad traffic, or personal stressors. People form impressions almost automatically, relying on heuristics and assumptions without even realizing it. They analyze your physical appearance, body language, and the way you communicate to form an opinion of you, your firm or both. Sometimes, misperceptions and miscommunications occur, resulting in one party being left with a view that differs from reality or the intent. A bad first impression can arise from a number of things, including pressure, an off day, distraction, nervousness or even hyper-focus (wanting something so badly that you are too aggressive or forceful). The bright side: this doesn’t have to be your defining moment. Follow the steps below to correct the bad initial interaction.

Ask For A Second Chance
Own the interaction and resulting impression. Admit your humanness and the fact that you did not start the business relationship in the manner intended. You may be surprised at how others can relate and are more than willing to give you an opportunity for a “do over.”

Be Proactive 
Commit yourself to changing that person’s view of you and make the best out of an unfavorable situation. They must have a reason to change their opinion, so make it happen. Put yourself in front of them. Display your knowledge, skills and personality over an extended period of time. Ask them out to lunch or bring them coffee, but do it more than once. A Harvard study revealed that it typically takes eight subsequent positive encounters to change another person’s negative opinion and view. Repeated positive, intentional gestures will alter their opinion. Displaying warmth suggests you have good intentions and will follow through and act on them. Make it obvious that you have the ability and are willing to help them achieve their goals. Display modesty towards the perceiver and foster collaboration and teamwork. This enables visualization of mutual success versus viewing you as a threat or someone to ignore.

Utilize the Egalitarian Goal
This is when individuals believe in the principle that all people deserve equal opportunities and should be judged fairly. People naturally want to be impartial; they just need to be reminded of it. Reinforce this during interactions by highlighting their fair-mindedness and unbiased opinion. For example, you may acknowledge a time when you initially allowed biases to impact your view of someone, but you were able to correct the bias and reach success together. Highlight the keen perception needed in your prospect’s line of work. This sets into motion the perceiver analyzing you from a neutral standpoint.

Finally, Make It Clear That You Are Needed and Necessary For Their Success 
Psychologists refer to this as outcome dependency. Identify opportunities and areas where the perceiver needs you for their success. For instance, when interacting with a prospect or client, reinforce that your firm can provide the solutions necessary to achieve their goals and your commitment to helping them get there. This counteracts the prior negative feelings or uncertainty. Demonstrating your commitment rebuilds trust.

The problem is that most people never try to correct a bad first impression. It is not easy and may require you to check your ego, but it is doable. Just keep in mind that however you choose to address the issue, your actions must be genuine, powerful, and consistent.

Need help with reputation management? Give us a call.