Unforgettable First Impressions Part 3: Time is (Not) On Your Side
You only have three seconds? Connect in under a minute? People decide if they like you within the first ninety seconds? Make the sale in the first five seconds? You get the job within four minutes? Always make a friend in less than 30 seconds?
Ahhhhhhhhhh!! Which one is right!?
I've read almost every book on first impressions, and the primary issue addressed tends to be time. (Or lack thereof.) Unfortunately, past research doesn't offer much consistency among increments of time in which you must make a first impression.
But there's no need to adhere to a specific number of minutes, hours, days or milliseconds to which your words and actions must adhere in order to "wow" the other person. The bottom line is this: every situation and every person is different. Only you can decide how much time you're allotted before your conversation partner thinks you're the greatest person they've ever met.
Beyond Initial Contact
Because they are based on instinct and emotion; and because they are usually correct; first impressions people form about you will probably stay in their minds forever. People put pressure on themselves to behave consistently with their own existing commitments. And as the great poet William Hazlit said, "First impressions are a person's work of years; they are stamped on his face by the events of his whole life by the hand of nature, and are not to be gotten rid of easily."
This is based on the primacy effect, which states that information people see or learn about you is more powerful than what is learned later. Therefore, when people initially see a small piece of you, that's all they know. So to them, it represents everything.
First Doesn't Mean First Time
First impressions are also the first time you have with someone. In other words, even if you've already known someone - your first impression, new or not, will still set the stage for whatever communication comes next.
Here's an example. Let's say you arrive (late) at your customer's office for your monthly appointment - and you're in a terrible mood. You're tired, annoyed and don't feel like crunching numbers. Now, even if you've worked with this customer for six months, it's still possible to make a bad first impression. It's still possible turn him off. And as a result, your entire meeting might be underscored by that negative impression - regardless of what the customer thought of you six months ago when he first met you.
So, first doesn't always mean first time.
Honesty is the Best Policy
It's like the old joke says, "If you tell the truth, you don't need to remember anything." So in your first impressions, be honest - and be honest immediately.
Once during a job interview I had the perfect opportunity to practice this last rule. My potential boss said, "All right, here's the last question - it's kind of a tough one. In fact, most employees struggle to answer it? so just do your best. What are some of your weaknesses?"
Ouch. A zinger if I ever heard one. Looked like my ego was about to take a beating.
But I didn't skip a beat. I smiled, re-crossed my legs and said, "Absolutely! In fact, I'll give you three of them:
1) I talk too much. As an extrovert, my personality is such that I might never shut up.
2) I'm not the most punctual employee in the world. I've been known to show up at the last minute, or sometimes a few minutes late.
3) I'm a big goofball. I do, say and think things that are outlandish.
But I'll tell you one thing," I added, "talking, tardiness and goofiness - all of those habits can change. But the one quality about me that will never change? is my honesty, and THAT is exactly why you need to hire me."
The room fell silent. And do you know what two words came out of his mouth next?
No, I'm just kidding! He said, "Welcome aboard!"
© 2005 All Rights Reserved.