By Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
Much of communication is based on how the receiver of your message feels about you. Do they like you? Trust you? Believe in you? It goes beyond content to a more subjective and visceral reaction one has to another human being. How people feel about you is often based on first impressions.
Fair or not, it is often said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. You can’t separate the message you are trying to communicate from the first impression you make as you are doing it. So what are some of the keys to making a positive first impression?
• An open, warm and friendly smile. Before you communicate a word, someone’s reaction to you is greatly influenced by whether you smile. A natural, comfortable smile puts the other person at ease. It says that you are comfortable with yourself and the situation you are in and it makes much of what you are saying easier to hear because a smile is seen as friendly and informal as opposed to adversarial and rigid. Are you aware of whether you smile when you meet people? If not, it is something to think about.
• A positive and upbeat attitude. It goes hand-in-hand with the smile. It has been said that “attitude is everything.” No one wants to be around people with a negative, depressing or cranky attitude. This doesn’t mean you walk around with a goofy grin on your face all day acting like the world is perfect, even if it is falling apart around you. Rather, having a positive attitude communicates that you can deal with just about anything that happens. This attitude is contagious and, again, makes the message you are sending verbally more likely to be positively received.
• A firm handshake combined with relaxed but focused eye contact. The reason I tie these two powerful non-verbal communication items together is that when you shake someone’s hand you should be able to make solid eye contact. Is your handshake firm or fishlike? Do you make direct eye contact or does it make you uncomfortable? When you don’t shake someone’s hand with a firm grip (no squeezing necessary) and look him in the eye, you can be pretty sure you are making a less than great first impression. When analyzing why people don’t like or trust other people, it can often be traced to that initial handshake and whether direct eye contact was made. This is something you have to practice.
• Genuine interest in other people. People often feel good about other people they meet for the first time, when the person they are meeting makes them feel good about themselves. Positive first impressions are made by people who ask questions of others. They show interest and concern without being nosey or pushy. They pay attention to what is being said and follow up to find out more. There are other simple ways to communicate your interest in other people, which include using someone’s name in a conversation or when meeting someone you are aware of but have never met before; “Jim, it’s great to meet you. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you from Bob.”