The impression I make in any situation reflects the effect I have on people and also the feelings I leave with them about me. Ideally, I want to make an impression that is positive and lasting and one that can potentially influence a network of people, and also build my reputation.
Imagine this scenario: You are about to enter a room where the first impression counts and this particular situation is crucial to your future or your organisation’s success.
It may be…
- A job interview
- Pitching for a contract
- As the customer service frontline face (voice) of your organisation
- A keynote speaker at a conference
- Meeting your new boss and co-workers, your child’s new teacher or your potential in-laws
Each of these relationships will be much easier to manage in the longer term if there is a positive first impression. There are parts of these situations that I can control and other parts that are out of my control.
I have two married sons. Their wives are the most amazing young women, I love them as my own daughters. When I was their age many of my friends didn’t have particularly positive or natural relationships with their in-laws. So when each of my sons introduced a new friend to my husband and I we were very conscious of the impression we wanted to make – warm, welcoming, accepting. This girl could potentially be with our family for life, so we made a decision to trust our son’s judgement and like the girl. We were all making a crucial first, and potentially lasting, impression, but I could only take responsibility for my part.
Brent and Dent in A Leaders guide to influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results (2010), summarise the process like this:
Question: What do I focus on when I need to make an impact with a positive impression?
Answer: Those that I can control. The four elements of a positive impression
It may be considered superficial, but these elements can impact the way we are received.
- Visual impression: I generally choose to dress with the ‘audience’ in mind, that is, whoever I may meet that day and the impression I would like to convey, I call it “one level up”. I feel more self-conscious and uncomfortable being under-dressed, than over-dressed. Of course I wear jeans on “Casual Friday” at work, but they will be in very good condition. Generally speaking, the visual impression that people receive will be impacted by your personal grooming, they way you carry yourself and your facial expressions.
- Body language: Once we have the ‘packaging’ right our unspoken communication is probably more powerful than we probably realise and a walking advertisement of what we are thinking or feeling. Posture, gesture, facial expression and eye contact can give away information about us, and can also let people know our intentions.
- Language we use: The power of the words we use shouldn’t be underestimated. They should be clear, appropriate, direct, descriptive and relevant. Generally, I try to think ahead and plan some common threads of conversation.
- Vocal usage: It’s not just what we say but how we say it. HR training for customer service staff recommends using musical elements to convey interest, helpfulness and sincerity. This includes accent, pitch, pace, pause, rhythm, volume and resonance. We can train our voices to be more receptive. (http://h2training.com/telephone_tips.pdf)
The impression I make, focusing on these four elements, is successful if I am above all else comfortable with being myself. When I am at ease the other person will also feel more at ease.
They say we only have one opportunity to make a first impression, which is true, but there are times when we need to resurrect a relationship when the first impression didn’t quite go as planned (or occurred before you read this blog post). So how have you turned around a crucial relationship when it got off to a bad start?