"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," the old aphorism tells us, and both science and everyday experience testify to its truth. First impressions are quick, powerful, and lasting, which is why it's so important to do everything you can to make a good one.
But sometimes, despite your best efforts to be charming, something goes wrong. Personalities clash, jokes fall flat, nerves get the best of you, or one party is simply having an off day, so a relationship starts with a fizzle rather than a bang. Is there anyway to bounce back from this sort of lousy first impression?
To the relief of entrepreneurs, job seekers, and anxious daters everywhere, experts agree that while changing a first impression can be difficult, it is often doable. Here are some of their top tips for turning things around.
1. Decide whether it's worth sweating
Not everyone gets along with everyone. That's OK. You don't have to please every Tom, Dick, and Harriet you meet. So your first response to the sense that you and a new acquaintance didn't get off on the right foot is to assess whether it's worth worrying about in the first place.
"I'm all about building a confident first impression, but sometimes people get too caught up in having to make a perfect first impression," leadership trainer and host of the Coaching for Leaders podcast Dr. Dave Stachowiak told the Art of Manliness (you'd have to assume this tip applies to the ladies as well). "Does it really matter to try to fix it? Is it really a big deal? If not, let it go."
2. Stop pretending
One common way to muck up an introduction is to stress yourself out pretending you're something you're not. Not only is this bound to make you awkward and unhappy, but almost everyone can sniff out this kind of falseness as well, and very few will respond positively to it. If your nerves got the better of you and you put on airs, the fix is simple, according to Tom Jaffee, a dating service CEO who has no doubt seen plenty of first meetings gone wrong. His solution: Confess and stop.
"Your best hope is to be honest with the person," Jaffee told Real Simple. "Admit you were just trying to make a good impression." Follow that spoken honesty up by acting like yourself the next time you meet.
If you got off on the wrong foot because of a simple stumble on your part, own it and apologize. "Sometimes bad first impressions are caused by genuine mistakes. Perhaps you discussed a touchy subject unknowingly or mistook your new contact for someone else. Simply apologize for your mistake," advises career expert Heather R. Huhman.
4. ...but don't over-apologize
While admitting to a misstep or to letting your nerves get the best of you can pay dividends, according to counselor and coach Susan Fee, you should nevertheless avoid over-apologizing for a dicey first meeting. "Saying you're sorry is important, but overdoing it can create another uncomfortable situation," she writes on her blog. "It puts the other person in the uncomfortable position of having to constantly reassure you."
5. Don't let your imagination run away with you
Fee also cautions against assuming your impressions of the meeting match up with those of the other party. Sometimes we think we screwed up far worse than we did. "Usually what we imagine is far worse than reality. Approach your apology by owning your feelings rather than telling others how you assume they feel. This gives you a chance to test their perceptions and get a real handle on the situation," advises Fee.
"So, instead of starting out with, 'You must think I'm a total idiot,' speak for yourself," she says, suggesting instead something like, "I'm uncomfortable with how I behaved yesterday because I realized I might have offended you. Did you feel the same way?" That way you'll avoid over-apologizing.
If a straight apology doesn't seem to suit the situation, you can always try pivoting instead. "One of the best approaches for recovering from a bad first impression is to pivot by showing off a different and more favorable side of your personality. In other words, if you tried to crack a joke and it fell flat, then demonstrate sincerity. Or if you tried to be sincere and it rang hollow, then demonstrate compassion. Pivoting to focus on a different aspect of your personality may help to reshape the perception of your character and value," explains the Art of Manliness.
Huhman agrees. "If you're a generally shy person, that shyness may come off as being rude or inconsiderate. Similarly, a feisty personality may be perceived as overbearing and disrespectful. Whatever the case, try to adjust your responses to balance this personality trait. If you're shy, smile more and initiate conversation. If you're too outgoing, take a step back and listen," she advises.
7. Ask for advice
This tip comes from persuasion guru Robert Cialdini via a Dorie Clark Forbes post. If someone dislikes you, one way to put the relationship on a fresh footing is to ask the person for advice. Not only is this flattering to the person being asked, but also offers an opening for further positive interactions. Say you ask for a book recommendation. "Suddenly, you have the basis of an interaction, because now when you return it, you can return it with a book you think he or she might like," says Cialdini.
8. Be persistent...
If you're really determined to win someone over after a rough start, be warned that your efforts may take some time. "A Harvard study suggests that it will take eight subsequent positive encounters to change that person's negative opinion of you. In this context be persistent and patient," leadership specialist Roz Usheroff reports on LinkedIn.
9. ... and consistent
While a sustained effort over time may be required to change a bad first impression, it's not sufficient. You also need to be stable in your subsequent behavior, Fee cautions: "Overcoming a bad impression requires that all future behavior be consistent with how you want to be perceived."