Note from Stephen: This is a guest article from Bill Post. His information is at the end of the article.
I think I’m a pretty sensitive guy. But if you showed up to a first ever business meeting in a T-shirt and shorts, would my feelings be hurt? Would I feel that you were not respecting me or my position? Absolutely not — not even if it were a job interview. But then, I’m not the kind of guy who sits around thinking, “I wonder if the person I’m about to meet has figured out how he (or she) is going to impress me!”
Ironically, if you are trying to make a good first impression on me, letting me get the idea that you are actively trying to impress me is almost the worst thing you could do (well, short of being genuinely disrespectful or abusive, anyway!). Because then I become suspicious.
Why am I telling you this? Am I saying that first impressions don’t matter? Absolutely not — I’m explaining why they DO matter, even to someone like me. Maybe especially to someone like me.
I can’t imagine myself wanting to hire or work with someone who is in the business of selling himself or herself — or even someone whose very first priority is selling a product, any product, even if that product is my own work or the services that I offer. Who DO I want to work with? People who are genuine, authentic, who can be truly present — people who can connect with me without trying to impress me. You’re not going to meet that standard simply by dressing up and making sure to use my first name several times in the course of our conversation (which are two of the most commonly given pieces of advice to people who are trying to make a good first impression).
Moreover, it’s not just me. I have found that even people who say they want to be impressed — people who WOULD be offended if you showed up to a business meeting in shorts — still want to meet someone who can authentically connect with them. With those people, dressing the right way just gets you in the door — a real, honest connection is still the ultimate test.
So how can you pass that test? As a consultant, I have to pass that test all the time. Here are the tips and strategies that I’ve gathered over the years:
- At the risk of sounding trite, always be yourself — even if you are not a people person. If you are an introvert trying to act like an extrovert to make a good impression, all that will happen is that you’ll set off your new acquaintance’s internal lie detector — and everyone has one. People will wonder what else you are lying about. If you’re shy, a better strategy is to come right out and admit it. If you do, people will tend to fall over themselves trying to make you comfortable.
- Likewise, wear what makes YOU feel the most comfortable. Obviously, don’t show up for a job interview in pajamas — or, in most cases, even in the T-shirt and shorts I mentioned in my example. But within the bounds of what is appropriate for the setting, wear something that you feel like yourself in. If you have to wear a suit and you hate suits, find some small way to modify what you’re wearing to make it more you. Otherwise you won’t feel free to be yourself — and again, you’ll set off those internal lie detectors.
- Prepare for meetings in advance so you can focus. I don’t mean prepare by making sure that you know your facts — I am assuming you already do that. What I mean is, take time to center yourself before meeting someone. Take a few deep breaths. If possible, meditate. Do whatever you need to do ahead of time to get yourself into the best mindset for your meeting. Find a way to bring yourself into the present moment so that you can truly pay attention to the person you are about to meet. For the duration of the meeting, be present in the meeting, not thinking about the million other things on your to do list.
- Point out your own flaws — don’t try to hide them. If you have obstacles to overcome, if you face your own unique set of challenges in a work environment, point them out. Explain what you’re up against and what your strategies are for overcoming these challenges. This way you’ve set the stage for honest communication, you’ve showed that you are being truthful and authentic, and you’ve let the person you are meeting know that you’re human — just as he or she is. That makes for a powerful connection. You don’t really want the people you meet to think that you are flawless and superhuman — no one can really connect with that, because none of us meet that standard.
- Be aware that you get more than one chance to make a first impression. The fact is that while you may make a good impression on someone you meet in a social situation (which is essentially what a job interview is, for example), that’s a very different matter from having your work make a good impression. The first work that you do on a new job will make its own first impression. Your place of business makes its own first impression on everyone who walks through the door. Your business card makes a small first impression on everyone into whose hands it falls. Your web site makes a first impression. You get the idea. Make the most of each chance you get to make a new first impression.
- Contrary to popular opinion, you CAN reverse a bad first impression. See point 5, above. Consider when your next opportunity to make a better impression will arise — and make the most of it. My experience tells me that if you give people a chance to reevaluate you, they will. Likewise, if you make a good first impression and later screw up, the good first impression may soften the impact, but it won’t delete it. Keep trying to make a good impression in all your interactions. Each of us is transformed by our continuing life experiences — again, not to sound trite, but you are a new person every day, and so are the people you meet and those you already know. Keep making new first impressions on the people around you — make your continuing impressions good ones.
Bill Post, Small Business Research Analyst, has been providing research on issues of concern to small businesses for 123Print.com Business Cards for three years. Prior to his involvement with 123Print, Bill was a small business owner himself, providing marketing and branding services to other small businesses in the Washington, DC metro area. Before working with 123Print on Business Card Templates, Bill spent several years after receiving his degree in the fast-paced corporate world. It was there that Bill not only honed the skills he uses to help small businesses get ahead, but it is also where he realized that he’d rather help the little guy prosper than make huge corporations money.
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