People decide whether they like you or not within seconds, and that first impression can be hard to shake if it's not in your favor.
The same is true whether you "meet" online or in person, and if the exchange is business-related, it's especially critical that you start off on the right foot. Luckily, there are many ways to improve that first impression, whether made in the digital world or the real world, and it'll literally pay off to follow better habits. Do you know what people really think of you?
Consider some of the negative conceptions you know people had of you when you first met (your now-friends are a great resource!). If you hear the same or similar words used over and over again to describe you, or if you've taken a perception quiz on Psych Central or another site, it's likely these misconceptions are shared by scores of other people who haven't spoken up. Those are your trouble areas that need a little more focus, but also consider these general steps to a better first impression:
It's the simplest and most common of all advice, and yet it's so challenging for many people to do. Even if your smile "looks fake," you can work on a genuine smile with Real Simple's tips. And remember that a fake smile is still preferable to a stoic expression. Practice by making eye contact and smiling at people you pass on the street, in your building, and anywhere else you feel safe. For some, besting that "resting b*#ch face" syndrome is a very real problem. However, you can overcome it.
2. Come up with a more genuine opening
"Nice to meet you," might be a staple of the American "polite" diet but it doesn't stand out and can come off as insincere. This doesn't mean you have to come up with something totally wonky, but think about a phrase that sounds sincere that you can practice. "It's a pleasure," is an option which is basic but not quite as common. Don't go through the motions, and generally show your pleasure in meeting someone.
3. Actively listen
This is a trait that nobody is born with, and you can spend a lifetime of practice without ever perfecting it. This means more than nodding along. Most people are simply listening "enough" while waiting for their turn to talk. Take in more than the words: Tone, body language, eye contact, and other cues are also telling you how the person is really feeling. Active listening and asking thoughtful follow-up questions can work wonders.
4. Watch your own body language
You already know the basics, but do you practice them? Not crossing your arms, knowing what to do with your hands, not playing with your hair, and understanding your own quirks when you're uncomfortable is a good start. Lean slightly in while respecting personal space, and if you're really in a pickle, try lightly mirroring what the other person is doing. Reading up on body-language basics via Lifehacker is a good idea before a big meeting.
5. Find common ground
When meeting a stranger, even if it's for business, it's natural for people to want to find common ground, because that gives them a connection. Whether it's over a mutual love of a particular workout, a favorite type of food or restaurant, or your shared loathing of the company's CRM, it's really not that difficult to find a few similarities.
6. Own your written communication
Your first impression online is usually totally dependent on your writing skills. Don't text speak. If you cold tap someone, offer something you can do for them (don't just ask for a favor). And have someone else double check your grammar.
Your first impression might be a done deal, but you can always improve the next one.