It’s no secret that first impressions are important. For teachers gearing up for the school year, a critical step in the start-of-the-school-year planning process is meticulously planning out the first day – and maybe even the first few minutes – with your new students. For a new boss, the first handshakes and the first staff meeting are crucial for establishing a positive impression. The same goes for picking out a dog, it turns out.*
Research shows that first impressions are made in just a few seconds – as few as 1/20th of a second and as many as 7 seconds. While I don’t doubt that there is truth in this, I also believe that “first” impressions are primarily important when we hope to establish a meaningful relationship over time. They involve much more than a strong handshake and an easy smile – after all, what good are those things if one is ultimately an untrustworthy, unprepared and self-oriented person? I’d argue that it is really your first few impressions that really count because they give people a chance to either confirm or deny the initial impression they formed in those first few seconds.
In that light, consider devoting ample time and energy towards these meaningful actions that leave not only a good first impression, but a lasting impression:
Be prepared – Devoting ample time to planning your first interaction can ultimately make you more relaxed and more confident when you actually come face to face with your new students, colleagues, etc. Plus, when you’re prepared, you come across as more reliable and credible – two key components of establishing trust.
Follow through – The first few commitments you make to a new individual or group are especially crucial. Demonstrating follow through on these commitments can be “quick wins” that immediately bolster your credibility with others as someone who stands by your word.
Demonstrate curiosity – Take an interest in truly getting to know those around you. Spend more time asking others questions about themselves – their role, their experiences, their likes/dislikes – and less time talking about yourself. People need to know that you care about them as people first and colleagues/students/teammates second.
Stay consistent – consistency is established in your first two interactions with others, and is either strengthened or damaged in every interaction after that. As first impressions transition into lasting impressions, be mindful of maintaining those initial actions that are most critical for establishing trust – being prepared, following through, and demonstrating curiosity.
Ultimately, when it comes to making a lasting impression, Maya Angelou summed it up best: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Those first few words and actions in our initial meetings with others are important – but only because they contribute to the lasting impression we hope to leave on others.
*The picture is of me with George in the first few minutes of meeting him – he won me over immediately. And yes, I’ve yet again found a way to incorporate my dog into my blog.