In business, as in life, making a good first impression really counts. Whether you're shaking hands with a potential client or eating sushi with a Tinder date (no judgment!), the intrinsic characteristics we relay say a lot about who we are and how we're perceived.
By studying and applying these techniques, you'll not only win more business and earn more respect, you just might create a lasting impression, too.
Ever met someone and instantly formed an opinion of them? Be honest. We all do it.
Whether that opinion is good or bad (and whether we even realize we're doing it), the human brain is wired to make connections and perceptions -- clocking in at speeds of up to 30 milliseconds.
Yes, you read that right. In 3/100ths of a second, you and I and everyone around us are already making judgments about people. For most, this behavior happens subconsciously, so we often don't even see it as a problem.
According to Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov, humans make snap judgments about facial features, generally placing them into three categories: attractiveness, dominance, and trustworthiness.
"We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word," suggests Todorov.
So what's the takeaway here? Are we stuck with the face our parents gave us? In short, no. To be clear, we're not talking about objective "good looks." This is deeper and more intrinsic. A better way is to think of how "attractive" your body language and expressions are is in the context of social situations.
For example, if you're hunched over, slouching, or frowning, these send clear signals about your current mood or state of mind. The next time you walk into a meeting, focus on things like posture, eye contact, and even breathing.
To improve first impressions, keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and face calm. Smiling improves trustworthiness across every culture, but be careful. Smile too much and you may be perceived as less dominant, or even weak.
Tone of Voice
Contrary to popular belief, nonverbal communication isn't everything. Yes, it's usually the very first association we make with someone (we don't walk around talking endlessly, right?), but characteristics such as pitch and tone of voice can make all the difference.
Let's turn to the science. In 2014, researchers from the University of Glasgow found that voice pitch plays an instrumental role in the associations and perceptions we form.
Interestingly, voice pitch is perceived quite similarly across groups of people, meaning there's a high degree of agreement in terms of what each voice denotes.
For example, in a study with 320 participants, subjects were asked to listen to a number of voices that said "Hello" and then describe their reactions.
Nearly everyone agreed that one particular male "Hello" was overwhelmingly untrustworthy. Now, that's not to slam the men out there; it's merely to show that we can unanimously agree on specific character traits -- just by listening to one word.
In business situations where trust is essential, voice may play a deciding factor. Research suggests that when the pitch of your voice rises toward the end of a sentence, it undercuts your trust and confidence ratings.
Clearly, then, voice and vocal tone is an area worth exploring if you're looking to create the perfect first impression.
Thanks to these studies and other research on how first impressions are formed, we can form a much better picture of the neurochemical reactions at play, and ultimately come up with strategies to help us manage and improve our first impressions.
Perfecting nonverbal signals and the pitch of our voice so that everyone likes us is clearly an impossible and unattainable goal. But by focusing on nonverbal cues and the tone of your voice, you can put yourself ahead of the competition and maybe, just maybe, gain an unfair advantage.