1. Focus on the other
Being known as a ‘natural’ at interpersonal communication is not just a gift that a select few enjoy. We can all enjoy the reputation of being ‘a great communicator’.
Simply focus the conversation on the other person. This takes the pressure off you — you don’t have to be a witty bon-vivant to be a great communicator.
Avoid interrogating your new acquaintance, and if you are really nervous do your best to control twitches and jittery movements. And (best hint coming…) ALWAYS slow your speaking rate down. Nervousness makes us talk too fast.
2. The eyes have it
Here’s a great ‘rule breaker’: instead of sticking to the ‘respect someone’s privacy and personal space’ rule, when you meet someone for the first time give them a good look right in the eyes.
It’s well known that when we look at someone we find attractive, our pupils dilate, a phenomenon that the other person instinctively picks up on. Well, that phenomenon can also be put to good use in our business dealings, too. Notice the other person’s eye colour, say ‘great’ to yourself, and you’ll find yourself involuntarily smiling. The other person will pick up on your mood.
But try and avoid smiling lecherously, or as a vampire would when contemplating a tasty new neck…
3. Get over your ‘bad hair day’
Whilst ‘being yourself’ is always a good thing for relational honesty, try and disguise your inherent pessimism and bad mood from new acquaintances.
Even though you know you are just ‘having a bad day’ or a bad half-hour, the other person will probably decide that you are a ‘full-time whinger’, an impression and reputation hard to shake.
A bad mood will spread contagiously, bringing down the other person too. Better to start off positively; you can always let them see your ‘other’ side on another day…
4. “Mirror in the bathroom First Impression” **
Adjust your posture, voice and gestures to those of your new acquaintance. Establish rapport by mirroring their head nods and tilts. Speak at their pace and volume level. You’d be surprised by just how many different ‘voices’ a successful salesperson uses in a day — they spend a large amount of time mirroring the other person’s gestures, voice, language, pace, intonation and volume.
** (a wildly unsuccessful link to an 80s ska/reggae song)
5. Tread lightly First Impression…
He’s talking about his new Holden Commodore; you’re thinking of your new Impreza WRX. Or she’s talking about her latest small win at the office and you’re thinking about the new $1M account you just landed single-handed.
Which do you reckon will be more impressive: you gloating about your wins and toys, or you letting the other person have their 15 minutes of fame?
Good manners, as well as psychological research, dictate that to impress your guest you should always keep at the forefront of your mind the question, “How am I making the other person feel?”
Actively encourage others to talk about themselves, and respond genuinely — without bringing it back to yourself.
6. Focus on their achievements First Impression
Use flattery sparingly but powerfully by focusing on the other person’s achievements, not their personal attributes. Even if they suspect you might be brown-nosing, they will still get a warm glow from a well-directed compliment. “You have a great eye for colour; I really like how you have put the office decor together” is more flattering than, “Nice office”.
“I like your new BMW – you must be a real asset to the company for them to give it to you” is more flattering than, “So who did you suck up to?”
Similarly, “You have a great eye for colour; I really like how you’ve put your wardrobe together” works better than, “You look totally shaggable in that dress”.
7. It’s never too late First Impression
Remember, there’s very little that is unfixable in our interpersonal business relationships. There is usually always another chance to fix false first impressions.
Let’s say you arrive at a meeting late, having just copped a parking ticket from the previous appointment. Your mood is not, as they might say, triumphant and glowing. Instead of responding appropriately to a new acquaintance’s polite greeting, you mumble a grumpy ‘yeah’ and drop your laptop bag unceremonially into a nearby chair.
Okay, not a good start. But step outside the room for a moment, take a deep breath, count to seven (ten is too long a pause) re-enter the room and look your acquaintance in the eye. Apologise and explain why you are out of sorts. You might even want to turn it into a joke by saying something like, “I see you just met my evil twin.”
And remember to cut others some slack if they make a bad first impression on you, too! What comes around, goes around…