How First Impressions Are Formed

Excerpted from

First Impressions: What You Don't Know About How Others See You

By ,

Imagine you are sitting at a bar with your best friend, who is about your age, similarly attractive, and intelligent. You both strike up a conversation with the bartender. You're all laughing and having a good time. But as the conversation goes on you realize the bartender is paying much more attention to your friend than to you. You feel hurt, and a little confused.

At your spouse's company party you meet many new people and are generally having a good time. On the way home, you have an uneasy feeling that you may have made a fool of yourself. You ask yourself whether you talked too much, told too many jokes, or were rude to the boss's wife. You question your husband closely, and he assures you that you were, in fact, charming and entertaining. But you still feel uncertain.

You're on an airplane flying from California to Chicago. The woman sitting next to you is interesting and engaging. You talk about the business trips you are returning from, your ex-spouses, and your favorite restaurants. You both admit you are single and hate the dating scene. At the baggage claim you exchange phone numbers. Yet when you call your traveling companion a few days later, she doesn't return the call.

Encounters like these occur all the time. We meet people whom we like, want to work or socialize with, but who don't seem to return our interest. We leave parties worrying about what people thought of us.

Though these meetings and the impressions we leave may seem fleeting, they can often have a far-reaching impact on our lives. An impression is important in the sense that there is a "retained remembrance," a lasting sense of someone or something. A first impression is our first and sometimes only opportunity to provide someone with a sense of who we are-a sense that will most likely be a lasting one. This is one of the reasons why first impressions are so crucial in terms of how others will view you and whether they will want to get to know you better.

First impressions is a topic of classic interest, and also particularly timely in today's world. For centuries people stayed in the communities in which they were born. They formed relationships, socialized, and conducted business with people they knew their whole lives. Now, however, we live in an age in which people move to new houses and cities, change jobs, make new friends, and form new relationships at a more rapid rate. First meetings happen so frequently, we hardly even register them. We might interact with someone new every day-another parent at our child's school, a new coworker or client, a store clerk, someone at the gym or in line at a coffee shop.

In these encounters, we may talk about the weather or what's going on in our lives and develop an initial understanding of others. Based on this very brief interaction, these strangers will form an opinion of us and probably will decide whether they like us or not. Whether we are perceived as sincere, interesting, or fun will determine whether others will be attracted to talk with us again, hire us, socialize with us, or date us.

Wouldn't you like to know what people are thinking about you?

This book will help you answer the questions "How do others see me?" "What do they see beyond my physical presence?" and "How can I make a better impression?" We provide the information you need to answer these questions by outlining the relationship between what you say and do and how others will likely perceive you. We've found that these relationships are extremely simple, but not always intuitive, even to the intelligent and well educated. While this knowledge is critical to success in life, it isn't taught in school, and rarely does anyone tell you this information honestly and objectively.

Our Experience

Our expertise in first impressions stems from our many years evaluating and coaching leaders and managers in Fortune 100 companies. We interact with professionals in role plays or "simulated" business situations, such as meeting a new client, and observe the way they present themselves and manage the conversation. We then provide feedback on the effectiveness of their communication, their sensitivity toward others, and the clarity of their ideas, among other things. Over the years we noticed that intelligent, competent executives were often unaware of the effect that they had on other people. Understanding the nuances of their communication style was invaluable to these business professionals in improving their effectiveness in the workplace and in their overall relationships with others.

After some experience with this work, it became clear to us that everyone could benefit from this kind of personal, objective feedback. However, it was available only to professionals in large corporations or to patients in psychiatric hospitals who needed to learn very basic social skills. There was no service available for average people to learn what type of first impression they made. So we decided to fill that gap and founded a unique business, First Impressions, Inc., in New York City.

At First Impressions, Inc., we use the same methodology, but focus on the social world. We go on a "simulated date" or social meeting with clients in a cafe, and, while interacting, observe their interpersonal styles and manner of self-presentation. Following the "date," clients join us in our office for a feedback session. We ask them what they intended to project about themselves and how they thought they came across to their date. We compare their beliefs to our perceptions, and provide them with specific supportive and constructive feedback.

This method is extremely effective in both the business and social worlds in helping people learn about themselves, and our clients love getting this kind of feedback. Most clients report that they learned things about themselves that no one had ever pointed out to them before. They also discovered that by changing what seemed to them to be a small or insignificant behavior, they received much more positive reactions from others.

In this book we show you what we show our clients. We deconstruct a first impression into its seven fundamentals-accessibility, showing interest, conversational topics, self-disclosure, dynamics, perspective, and sex appeal-and help you see how you come across in each element.

Tags: Personal Growth

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