If you're all hung up about making a good first impression, chances are you'll make a bad one.
Unless you're a natural charmer--in which case you would make a good first impression without even trying--you'll likely come off as an overbearing bootlicker who's trying too hard to please.
Don't get me wrong. First impressions are important.
But obsessing about making a good first impression is the wrong focus, especially if you want to make a good, lasting impression.
First impressions are a big deal.
"When you first meet a person, he makes a judgment about you in approximately four seconds, and his judgment is finalized largely within 30 seconds of the initial contact," says Brian Tracy, author, speaker, and trainer to individuals and companies.
An article in Psychology Today says research "collectively indicates that you may only get a few seconds to make a first impression that is tied to the future of your relationship."
According to the Uncertain Reduction Theory, people reduce uncertainty about new acquaintances by taking in as much information as they can, quickly noting the other person's appearance, demeanor, and speech patterns, and asking questions.
We use this "thin slice" of initial experience with a person to make judgments about him or her. Sometimes, inexplicably, we instantly like or dislike someone we've just met.
The Predicted Outcome Value theory further says that when we first meet others, we predict the value of a future relationship with them. If the predicted value is positive, we tend to interact with them more and invest more in strengthening the relationship.
Therefore, if you make a good first impression on somebody, it will be easier for you to connect with that person moving forward.
So humans tend to make rash judgments--we do judge a book by its cover, and our judgment affects our future behavior.
Still, this doesn't justify getting preoccupied with first impressions.
First impressions don't have to be last impressions.
"Are first impressions worth the time and energy we put into cultivating them? Or are they wildly limiting, and something we should teach people to avoid?" Kristi Hedges, Forbes contributor, wisely asks.
The focus on making a good first impression implies that you have one chance, and then you're done. But that's not how real life works.
Yes, you can experience an opportunity of a lifetime. Those things happen, and if you blow it, sure, that's it. Other times, though, our initial interaction with someone is not all-or-nothing.
We can change our impression of a person when we get new information about them. Cornell University researchers Thomas C. Mann and Melissa J. Ferguson have found people tend to "stockpile evidence" about each other and adjust their views accordingly.
So if you're not a naturally charismatic person who can charm the pants off of anyone, then stop pressuring yourself to make a good first impression.
Usually what makes a bad first impression is trying too hard to make a good first impression, because you tend to take up more space than is appropriate and not be mindful of the context, and the interaction becomes contrived.
What to focus on instead.
Trying to force your way into interactions is likely to be less effective than focusing on adding value and doing it in a way that's authentic for you.
If it's a job interview, focus on how you can contribute to the company. If it's dinner with future in-laws, focus on your commitment to love and cherish their child. And if it's networking, focus on how you can help the other person.
When you try to make a good first impression, you focus on yourself. But when you try to add value, you focus on the other person.
Finally, be more aware of the first impressions you have of other people. Hold back on making snap judgments and seek instead to truly get to know the person in front of you, who just may be nervously trying to impress you.