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You only get one chance to make a first impression, you better get it right

Mar 28, 2017

First impressions are based on a wide range of characteristics: age, race, culture, language, gender, physical appearance, accent, posture, voice, number of people present, and time allowed to process.

Researchers at New York University and Harvard University used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of people as they formed first impressions of fictional individuals based on simple descriptions and value representations.

Daniela Schiller, the study’s lead author, writes that:

“when encoding everyday social information during a social encounter, these brain regions sort information, based on its personal and subjective significance, and summarize it into an ultimate score — a first impression.”

We are so fast judging people (around 2 seconds according to a MIT Study), that even before someone says a word, we already judged their status, personality, success, and much more.

We may not notice because it happens on your subconscious mind. It’s our survival instinct. This comes from our ancient brain, back in the days, we only had around two seconds to decide: Fight, flight or relax.

A wrong judgement and it was, as Portuguese proverb says, the death of the artist (which means they were dead). The ones who made this decision right, thrived, and ended up becoming us, humans.

That’s why our brain is so fast making first impressions. And they stick because we’re actually pretty good making these assumptions.

One Harvard research team showed students a two second clip of a teacher they have never seen before, and asked them to evaluate the teacher’s effectiveness. Then the researcher team compared these evaluations with of those students who’d experienced this same teacher for a whole semester. Both sets of evaluations were impressively similar.

Studies after studies have confirmed that once a first impression is made everything you do gets filtered through it.

So if you make a good one, you got the tide in your favour. But if instead you make a bad one, it’s not impossible to overcome, but you got a lot of work to do.

You only get one chance to make a first impression, you better get it right.

How do I get a good first impression ?

People like people that are like them

Our ancestors used to live in tribes. In such environment, the ability to recognize whether or not someone was of your tribe could mean life or death. If you know how to get these instinctive responses in your favor you’ve won half of the battle.

When people are similar in terms of appearance, attire and speech we automatically assume they share the same backgrounds, education and even values than us.

Keep the spotlight in the other person

When in a conversation, make open ended questions, add a personal note, make the other people feel good about themselves. People will associate you with whatever feelings you produce on them.

A good handshake

Studies confirmed that a determined handshake improves the quality of the interaction, producing a higher level of intimacy and trust within a matter of seconds.

For the perfect handshake, make plenty of eye contact and smile warmly but briefly, keep your palm flat, try to wrap your fingers around your partner’s hand, lock your thumb down once contact is made, and shake from the elbow.

Break the ice

A good way to break the ice is complimenting something the person is wearing. Continue with positive open-ended questions: “Where are you from?”, and “What brought you here tonight?”, “What’s the story behind it?”. The word story has a very strong emotional effect on people and if associated with something the other person is wearing or using, it’s most likely they have a positive feeling around it.

Exit with grace

To exit a conversation with grace, offer something of value: a connection or an introduction, information they might find useful, an organization you belong to.


We judge many things from first impressions, and then spend the rest of our acquaintanceships proving if those things are correct. And they usually are. So we better get the right mental state before meeting someone for the first time.

After it don’t think about what you said. What really impacts people isn’t the words or content used, but how they felt to be speaking with you.

Give them attention, presence and warmth. Get the right body language, practice your handshake, break the ice and exit with grace and you’re good to go.


If you want explore more about this ideas I highly recommend reading the The Charisma Myth by Olive Fox Cabane.

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