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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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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