People make an impression of you within the first few seconds of meeting you. They quickly evaluate your verbal and non-verbal cues to decide whether or not you are a likable person. And once formed, first impressions can be hard to change. There's no way around this, so it's on you to nail the first impression.

Making a good impression involves doing the right things and avoiding a number of common mistakes that many people make. Since a first impression is the starting point for meaningful and lasting relationships, it's imperative to continually hone your communication skills. This is how the most connected people build relationships

Here's a list of 20 things you should do, or not do, when meeting someone for the first time. 

The list

  1. Greet others with a smile and a firm handshake. 
  2. Be curious and genuinely interested in other people.
  3. Don't interrupt others when they're talking. No one likes being interrupted.
  4. Make an offer to help or support them. I like to ask if there's any way I can be helpful. I mean it, and if there is, I follow through.
  5. For men: Be aware that your body language and spatial orientation can make women uncomfortable. While this usually happens unconsciously, "standing over" women or taking a suggestive body posture can make women feel unequal or uncomfortable. These micro-aggressions are easy to avoid with self-awareness.
  6. Actually listen to other people. Don't just stand there and wait for your turn to talk. Ask clarifying questions and provide confirmation that you're listening.
  7. Practice good body language and posture. If you don't know what that is, or what it looks like,  learn.
  8. Don't complain. You might think you're stating facts, but you're really just complaining. No one likes a complainer.
  9. If you're shy or an introvert, then ask a lot of questions. This helps take pressure off you and it allows the other person to do more of the talking. This has two benefits. First, it gives you space. Second, it helps you learn more about the other person.
  10. Listen more than you speak. Give others the space to share and be heard.
  11. Don't make inappropriate jokes or say disparaging things about other people. Remember, if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all.
  12. Don't just collect a business card and split. A successful career is built on making meaningful relationships, not acquiring contacts. Meet the human behind the card.
  13. Take pride in your appearance. Today's wardrobe is relaxed. Yet, no matter your style, your clothes should be clean and in good shape.
  14. For men: Do not hug a woman unless she initiates it. Here's a helpful guide: If you wouldn't hug a man you just met, and in that same situation, then it's not appropriate to hug a woman. 
  15. Have fun. People like meeting people who are happy and enjoying themselves.
  16. But don't drink too much. Getting tipsy at a networking event or professional function doesn't look good and won't make a good first impression.
  17. Maintain eye contact. This means holding a warm, consistent gaze while also taking natural breaks so it doesn't look like you're staring at someone.
  18. If you're eating, don't talk with your mouth full. This is as important in adulthood as it was when you first learned this as a kid.
  19. Connect online. I always ask people to connect with me on LinkedIn, in addition to (or in lieu of) exchanging business cards. 
  20. If you want something, ask politely. It's OK to ask something of someone, but do so in a way that respects the other person and gives him or her an out. For example, you can ask: "I know you're busy, but if it's not too much trouble, would you be open to meeting me for a lunch meeting? My treat."

Final word

Cultivating good habits and removing bad habits is a sound approach to consistently making great first impressions -- no matter the situation. If you're not good at meeting people, or making great first impressions, ask a friend or colleague for help. Go over this list with them and ask if you do or do not do these things. This will help you kick bad habits, reinforce good ones and gain the self-awareness needed to continue evolving into your best self.

Published on: Aug 8, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.