From First Impression to Unforgettable

The time between first contact to first impression is about seven seconds. Seven seconds of lightning speed analysis to figure out if we are trustworthy, likeable, capable, standoffish, aloof, arrogant, friendly … geez!

First impressions happen fast, but with the right know-how, seven seconds is all that’s needed to make sure you’re remembered for all the right reasons. Here’s how:

  1. It begins with the approach.

    Assume that people already like you. Relax, step forward and smile.

  2. Now boost it.

    With humility. The mindset: You’re the fortunate one to be meeting this person. The action: Tilt your head slightly towards them and raise your eyebrows a little. Raising your eyebrows communicates acknowledgement and recognition. Relationships flourish when people are themselves. Humility lays the ground beautifully for people to do just that.

  3. Make eye contact.

    And when you do, take a second or two longer to notice the colour of their eyes. It enriches contact and makes way for people to feel seen. In a room full of strangers, this will make a difference. 

  4. Be deliberate with your attitude.

    People will immediately pick up on attitude so be fully aware and in control of the one you cast. If the right attitude feels impossible to muster up for real (it happens) try ‘acting as though’. Take a moment to get into the headspace you’d be in if you were competent, confident, humble. You don’t have to feel it to put it out there. There’s a time for pretending – and this is it.

  5. Touch. Not too much though. And from the right distance. (Oh! So many rules!)

    Touch is powerful when used well and appropriately, even if it’s just in a handshake. From the outset though, let’s be clear that the touch has to be not-threatening, not-sleazy, not-invasive and not-heavy-handed. So what’s left then? Warm and affirming. Think of it as an extension of a handshake. Touch can instantly close a gap between people but it’s important that it’s done respectfully and sensitively – try briefly on the upper arm or shoulder. One more thing – be mindful of personal space and touch from a respectful distance.

  6. Move the conversation past smalltalk.

    Small talk is important to establish a connection, but nobody is remembered for their in depth analysis about ‘the weather we’re having lately’. The subject everyone is most expert on is themselves, so ask questions that encourage this. A common question is, ‘What do you do?’. Take the conversation deeper by asking the what/where/how/why of that (or anything else that comes up). What do they like the most/least. Why did they choose that path? Would they do it again? Why? Why not? It’s not an interview, but asking people about themselves provides the opportunity for them to be an expert and lets them know you’re interested – which makes you interesting. Asking the right questions shows attentiveness, interest and respect. And who doesn’t want that?

  7. Be a little bit vulnerable.

    None of us are have it all figured out. Vulnerability communicates trust and humility (there’s that word again). Nobody is suggesting that you run your life’s disasters by somebody you’ve known for five minutes, but understand that though people may be momentarily impressed by those who have it all together, it’s more likely that they’ll relate to the ones who don’t. Be impressed, be humble, and don’t be afraid to be a little bit self-depracating. The most charming people are the ones who are comfortable with their humanity and let people know it. Be real and be genuine. People aren’t stupid and will see straight through anything else, though some will take longer to see through it than others.

Everybody wants to matter, everybody wants to be liked. Remember that and trust that it’s in you to leave a brilliant first impression.

2 Comments

Holly H

I would be fascinated to read thoughts on how to create the first few seconds good impression over the phone. I speak over the phone consultatively for a living and to be trustworthy, likable, and capable is the person I strive to be every day. How can I best communicate that by voice-only? Thank you!

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Hey Sigmund

Hi Holly. Speaking over the phone can be so much harder to give a good first impression than in person can’t it, but there are things you can do. The first might sound weird – but it works – and it’s backed by research which is always a good thing! Try assuming a confident pose when you talk. If you’re seated, sit straight, open up your body, head up. If you sit strong, you’ll feel strong and that’s how you’ll come across. The second is to get your breathing under control before you call to reverse any stress that might come from anticipation of the call. It also helps you to slow down and to sound stronger when you speak. The third is to smile. Even though people can’t see you, when you smile it comes across in your voice, helping you to sound more approachable and likeable from the outset. Hope this helps.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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