First Impression is Not the Last Impression – Changing Your First Impression

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Earlier, they use to say that “Your First Impression is the last impression” and now, they say that “your first impression is not the last impression but long-lasting impression. Hence, there is a scope to rectify your “first impression” and at times there is also a need to do so. There are times when we think that we have made a mistake…we should not have carried ourselves the way we did and then we look forward to one chance to correct our “first impression”.

In this article, we will be discussing about this and other related issues such as things you should do or should not do to make a “Perfect” first impression; what will you do to change your first impression and will you give one more chance to someone to rectify his / her first impression.

Understanding the term – “First Impression” (FI)

Before talking about “First Impression” (FI), lets discuss, what is “impression” to start with. Though, your looks and appearance is a part of your impression but that is not the only thing, which matters. Your impression means your overall personality and it consists of:

1) The Way you carry yourself

2) Your Dress-up

3) The way you express yourself

4) Your Mannerism

5) Your Behavior

6) Your Communication

7) The way you treat the other person

These all are the traits which consist of impression and thereby are related to your FI.

For an impression to be called as FI, this must be your first meeting with that person. FI can be of two types – Planned and Unplanned. It is planned, when you are aware of it. For example,

1) Your job – interview

2) Business meeting with client

3) Dating

4) You are invited as a guest

FI can be planned, when you are not prepared for it. For example, people looking at you when you are walking down the street; when you are traveling; when you are just passing through a place, you are at a place where people around you hardly matters to you etc.

This first impression process occurs in every new situation. Within the first few seconds, people pass judgment on you – looking for common surface clues. Once the first impression is made, it is virtually irreversible.

The process works like this:

A. If you appear to be of comparable business or social level, you are considered suitable for further interaction.

B. If you appear to be of higher business or social status, you are admired and cultivated as a valuable contact.

C. If you appear to be of lower business or social standing, you are tolerated but kept at arm’s length.

If you are in an interview situation, you can either appear to match the corporate culture or not, ultimately affecting the outcome.

For the purpose of this article, we will be concentrating on Planned FI because people making an impression about you, when you are walking down the street, hardly matters to anyone.

Changing your FI

Now, let’s discuss about this. Suppose you are at the receiving end, you met a person and he made certain opinion about you, it can be about your behavior or the way you carry yourself. Or he has read about you or has heard about you and based on that there was already some notion in his mind. You know that you are not what the other person is thinking or assuming about you. Will you make an attempt to correct that impression or assumption?

I asked this question in some of my training programs. I have asked this question to 748 people. I also discussed this with some of my friends. Around 67% of them said, “NO”. They will not make any attempt to change FI. They said that it hardly matter to us. Let anyone carry any impression that they want to carry. 26% said that once they know, what type of impression the other person is carrying, they might make an attempt to change that impression. 7% respondents remain neutral.

Some of the responses are:

Jim Lenahan (Owner, Data Basics International, Inc. / WebSecretaries.com): I do not try to correct someone else’s opinion of me. Others’ opinions of me do not matter to me.

Mayank Bhargava (Analyst at Infiniti Research): I actually don’t work on changing the opinion a person has about me. Work hard and eventually reality comes in the fore figure.

Steve Aditya (Account Manager at IMS Health): I think if I see no benefit for me in changing their opinion about me then I’ll let it be but if I see future relationship with that person, certainly I’ll try to make him change his view. How?

– By building a relationship with him so as time goes by he can see my true personality

– Using third person (a common friend) to endorse me.

Ajay Prasad (Manager with Global Payments – HSBC): I would definitely not like to influence what the other person perceives me as. Because impression is two communications – one, what I show to others (need to find out what kind of mask we are wearing in front of others and second what kind of mindset or presumption the other person has). If you are a nice human being, you should let the show be a real and original. Masking ourselves and handling situation is always easy but to be real and then facing others is a bit difficult job.

Sheilah Etheridge(Owner, SME Management: Management and Accounting Consultant): I see no point in trying to change the first impression or the opinion formed as a result of that impression. People will believe what they want to believe. I will continue to be who I am and they will either maintain that opinion or they won’t. That is their choice.

Mudassir Ehsan (Business Development Manager at Frost & Sullivan): If I feel, for whatever reason, Mr. X has got an incorrect impression about me, I would not take any immediate steps to rectify that impression….here is what I would think:

A) Why is that I gave a wrong impression about myself to anyone….now that someone has got a wrong impression…that means, I am capable of giving wrong ideas about myself to others? I would firstly work on that…find out why I did whatever happened.

B) As far as rectifying the impression is concerned, well…this certainly depends on who has got a wrong impression about me…is he/she an influential person…do I foresee any kind of opportunities with that person in the future ? Now then…some may argue that anyone in this world is important as they could provide you opportunities…don’t shut the doors on anyone….Agreed…but these people are also like opportunities…I take some and leave some….

So my answer is that I will only try rectifying my image to people of immense importance mainly ! The rest would come to know the real-me automatically….in due course of time.

How am I going to rectify my image…well if this person is of so much importance…I might create a situation to interact more with that person and give myself a chance to quickly portray my correct image.

Gerald Lo (Project Manager at Watson Pharmaceuticals):”An inaccurate first impression is, I think, nearly inevitable. Once people get to know me, I believe their impressions and opinions change. It is not something I feel I can change through effort; I believe that respect must be earned over time by action and attitude, not words.

I try to conduct myself with some reserve during my first introductions to others, and presume that others may do the same. As a result, I try to condition my expectations regarding those first impressions, as they may sometimes be illusory. I also do not depend on someone new giving me the benefit of the doubt from our first meeting.

Through coincidence, someone new to us may resemble someone from our pasts. A mannerism or physical likeness might remind us of somebody else altogether. It is human nature, I think, for our brains to associate the new person with that old impression of another one altogether. What might help distinguish us from certain animals may be our ability to reason and try to overcome our more primitive instincts of association.

The circumstances might extenuate an individual’s behavior on the occasion of the meeting. I find I am much more receptive to appreciating someone’s company and character when we are not meeting under the conditions of an emergency.

I think making an effort to present a respectful and respectable external demeanor is generally a good practice, whether being introduced to a new acquaintance, undergoing an interview, having dinner, or encountering a poisonous reptile. One doesn’t need to love it, but it certainly demands respect, in my opinion”.

In my views, I think we are taking things a bit too lightly. It is true that, with so many people around us, it hardly matters what people think about you but if we take it in a positive manner, people will not remember who you are; they will not remember how you look like, but they will always remember how you made them feel like; how you treated them; how you behaved with them. I think it is very important to have a good impression. That is how people will remember you. Hence, though there is a very little possibility that you get “another chance” to rectify your impression but if you get, make a best use of it.

Giving a Chance to Someone to Improve the First Impression

Let’s be fair on this. We all know that your first impression might not be the impression that you want to create. Just, only in this article we also proved that. I asked one more question in my training programs. I have asked this question to 748 people. I also discussed this with some of my friends. We discussed the scenarios that suppose you are the person who is judging another person. You met a person and made certain opinion about him or her. Your assumptions about the person might not be correct. So, will you give that person another chance to rectify that “first-impression”? How easy or difficult will it be for you to change your first impression about that person? Around 34% respondents said that for them the first impression is the final impression and they will go by their gut feeling. 59% respondents said that they will give as many chances as possible to that person to rectify his / her FI. 7% respondents were neutral.

Some of the responses are as follows:

Around 63% of them said, “NO”. They will not make any attempt to change FI. They said that it hardly matter to us. Let anyone carry any impression that they want to carry. 21% said that once they know, what type of impression the other person is carrying, they might make an attempt to change that impression.

Jim Lenahan (Owner, Data Basics International, Inc. / WebSecretaries.com): I give people plenty of opportunities to prove my first impression right or wrong. Like I said, I’m wiring sometimes — especially when reaching a conclusion on a paucity of data. It is thus easy for me to change my opinion (not my first impression — that remains locked in history) due to my large amounts of practice.

Mayank Bhargava (Analyst at Infiniti Research): My personal experience says that people should be given more than one chance to be judged. I don’t say that you might find a gem of a person; however there are certain genuine cases who deserve 2nd chance. On the other hand there are some very smart people who never reveal themselves in the first meeting. In such a case one quick decision can jeopardize our situation.

Steve Aditya (Account Manager at IMS Health): I personally believe in second chances and I don’t judge people by first impression basis. I don’t believe in making the right assumption (judge) people that way.

Ajay Prasad (Manager with Global Payments – HSBC): This purely depends on the purpose of interaction. If there is a pre-defined purpose, then I would also be very clear of what I want out of the other person. During interaction I would definitely judge the person against the parameters set by me. But in case I do not find some of those required parameters in him/her, I would rather share those with him/her. As I mentioned earlier perception is a two-way communication, and it does depend on how communicative the other person is. There might be instance where the person has some attributes but does not show in his behavior. In those cases, we are at risk of losing the right person (only because of perception).

Sheilah Etheridge (Owner, SME Management: Management and Accounting Consultant): I am fairly on target on the opinion I have of people. I have been proven wrong a couple of times but it is not often. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt and keep an open mind before really forming an opinion. But there are times that I will get an instant dislike for someone (they don’t even need to speak). If that happens and I am not sure why I feel that way and nothing has happened to cause me to dislike them there is generally a valid reason I just haven’t found yet. To date, I have never instantly disliked someone and then later found I was wrong.

Mudassir Ehsan (Business Development Manager at Frost & Sullivan) : Regarding myself giving others a chance…..well I will always give others a chance to build his correct impression on me. Coz, it is possible that the concerned person was right and my judgement was wrong….hence, I would never shut the doors on assessing anyone until we have interacted enough to know each other.

Kajal (Assistant Branch Manager at Citizens Bank): Yes, I would give more than one chance for a person to change their first impression. It depends on the situation……if you are interviewing someone and he showed up late…..I will first find out what happened and see how well everything else goes. And then, you can decide. Sometimes, you just get this “feel” for a person and I think no matter what that person does it is difficult to change your impression and I think that most of the times this” feel” is almost the right impression of the person.

Lucy Garrick (Principle Consultant at NorthShore Group): “Changing first impressions difficult for anyone. This is because our impressions are a result of a lifetime of memory and inferred meaning processed by the brain in less than a nanosecond. The question is perhaps not how to change first impressions, but how to change the meaning of 1st impressions.

Change begins with noticing that you have a 1st impression, then letting go of the story and judgments about those impressions to be curious and open to other possible conclusions. Another important question is “what is the impact of your first impressions or assumptions about another?

A simple skill to practice and remember is “Say Why, Ask Why”

When you interact with another, tell them the motivation for your interaction. When their response is puzzling to you, test your assumptions about why they are responding as they are. Curiosity will open the door to better relationships and more effective interactions”.

As some people expressed above that though they will be giving chances and opportunities to other people to rectify their first-impression but at the same time they also agreed that with this the other person will only be able to change the opinion and the first-impression will remain unchanged and locked in the memory. Hence, it is very important to go that extra mile and make a knock-out first impression.

Factors one should consider while making first impression

Basic principles to make the BEST “First Impression”

A. A Winning Smile: “Smile and the world smiles too.” So there’s nothing like a smile to create a good first impression. A warm and confident smile will put both you and the other person at ease. So smiling is a winner when it comes to great first impressions. But don’t go overboard with this – people who take this too far can seem insincere and smarmy, or can be seen to be “lightweights”.

B. A Word about Individuality: The good news is you can usually create a good impression without total conformity or losing your individuality. Yes, to make a good first impression you do need to “fit in” to some degree. But it all goes back to being appropriate for the situation. If in a business setting, wear appropriate business attire. If at a formal evening social event, wear appropriate evening attire. And express your individuality appropriately within that context.

C. Be on Time: The person you are meeting for the first time is not interested in your “good excuse” for running late. Plan to arrive a few minutes early. And allow flexibility for possible delays in traffic or taking a wrong turn. Arriving early is much better that arriving late, hands down, and is the first step in creating a great first impression.

D. Be Yourself, Be at Ease: If you are feeling uncomfortable and on edge, this can make the other person ill at ease and that’s a sure way to create the wrong impression. If you are calm and confident, so the other person will feel more at ease, and so have a solid foundation for making that first impression a good one.

E. Be Open and Confident: When it comes to making the first impression, body language as well as appearance speaks much louder than words. Use your body language to project appropriate confidence and self-assurance. Stand tall, smile (of course), make eye contact, greet with a firm handshake. All of this will help you project confidence and encourage both you and the other person feel better at ease.

Almost everyone gets a little nervous when meeting someone for the first time, which can lead to nervous habits or sweaty palms. By being aware of your nervous habits, you can try to keep them in check. And controlling a nervous jitter or a nervous laugh will give you confidence and help the other person feel at ease.

F. Be Positive: Your attitude shows through in everything you do. Project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism or in the case of nervousness. Strive to learn from your meeting and to contribute appropriately, maintaining an upbeat manner and a smile.

G. Be Courteous and Attentive: It goes without saying that good manners and polite, attentive and courteous behavior help make a good first impression. In fact, anything less can ruin the one chance you have at making that first impression. So be on your best behavior. One modern manner worth mentioning is “turn off your mobile phone”. What first impression will you create if you are already speaking to someone other than the person you are meeting for the first time? Your new acquaintance deserves 100% of your attention. Anything less and you’ll create a less than good first impression.

H. Present Yourself Appropriately: Of course physical appearance matters. The person you are meeting for the first time does not know you and your appearance is usually the first clue he or she has to go on. But it certainly does not mean you need to look like a model to create a strong and positive first impression. The key to a good impression is to present yourself appropriately.

Start with the way you dress. What is the appropriate dress for the meeting or occasion? For business and social meetings, appropriate dress also varies between countries and cultures, so it’s something that you should pay particular attention to when in an unfamiliar setting or country. Make sure you know the traditions and norms.

Appropriate dressing and grooming help make a good first impression and also help you feel “the part”, and so feel more calm and confident. Add all of this up and you are well on your way to creating a good first impression.

I. Small Talk Goes a Long Way…: Conversations are based on verbal give and take. It may help you to prepare questions you have for the person you are meeting for the first time beforehand. Or, take a few minutes to learn something about the person you meet for the first time before you get together. For instance, does he play golf? Does she work with a local charitable foundation? Is there anything that you know of that you have in common with the person you are meeting? If so, this can be a great way to open the conversation and to keep it flowing.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that your first impression is very important and most of the time you get only one chance to make that knocking impact. It is also true that usually you do not get another chance to rectify your first impression. However, if you are lucky enough to get another chance, hold that with both hands and make an everlasting impact. Here, there are two types of people…people at your workplace, people in your family and those with whom you meet occasionally, once in a year or so…one should take care of that.

At the end, I only like to say, that it is very important to know the type of person you are going to meet and what type of future you are looking forward, involving that person in your life; so based on that…one should be prepared. This is life and in life, there is no retakes…only one shot.

Looking forward to your comments and feedback

With Love

Sanjeev Himachali

(BLOG: http://sanjeevhimachali.blogspot.com/ and http://sanjeevhimachali.multiply.com/)

(E-mail: ss_himachali@yahoo.com and sanjeev.himachali@gmail.com)

References

1. Managing First Impressions at Interviews – David Jensen

2. Making a Great First Impression! – Mind tools

3. Do You Make Your First Impression Your Best Impression? – Michelle Sterling, Global Image Group

Acknowledgement

I like to say a big and very special thanks to all the below listed people for sharing their views and thoughts. They are:

1. Lucy Garrick (Principle Consultant at NorthShore Group

2. Kajal (Assistant Branch Manager at Citizens Bank)

3. Mudassir Ehsan(Business Development Manager at Frost & Sullivan

4. Sheilah Etheridge (Owner, SME Management: Management and Accounting Consultant)

5. Ajay Prasad (Manager with Global Payments – HSBC)

6. Steve Aditya (Account Manager at IMS Health)

7. Mayank Bhargava (Analyst at Infiniti Research)

8. Jim Lenahan (Owner, Data Basics International, Inc. / WebSecretaries.com)

9. Gerald Lo (Project Manager at Watson Pharmaceuticals)