The business world has become a much more relaxed place over the past few decades, but it might not be as casual and accepting as you think. People still make judgments on the basis of first impressions and can be much less forgiving of others than they are of themselves.

People looking to partner, hire, or buy will carefully scrutinize those with whom they engage. The deeper the engagement at hand, the harsher they will be in their initial scrutiny. It may not be fair (or even conscious), but a number of signs can trigger an adverse reaction. Do your best to avoid them or rectify them if you want your best possible chance of success.

1. A weak handshake.

Handshakes in American society are crucial; hence the reason Purell stock gets a boost at election time. A good solid handshake may go unnoticed or even send a jolt of positive energy. But a wimpy, weak handshake leaves the receiver questioning the confidence and energy of the provider. Practice giving a firm and hearty handshake.

2. Smoking.

Adult smokers in the U.S. now represent less than 18 percent of the population. Civic ordinances have made it difficult to even find a place to smoke comfortably around an office. Most nonsmokers abhor the smell and can detect it the second you walk by. Time to quit. If you won't do it for your health, do it for your image.

3. Inappropriate dress.

Too-revealing or too-garish clothing will get you attention, but not quite the kind you want. You don't have to be boring to be appropriate, but choose a style that fits your desired career and make it your own within reason. Few industries will welcome you in pajamas.

4. Chewing gum.

You may like the taste and the motion, but chewing gum while meeting someone gives an impression of being lower class, immature, and having a poor self-image, even that impression isn't accurate. And anyone who has ever stepped in gum has a negative reaction when they meet a gum chewer. Save your bubble blowing and masticating for casual friends in private places.

5. Arguing.

People do business with people they like, so if you start off with heavy and aggressive dissent you will appear unfriendly. That’s not to say that you can’t have a good intellectual debate. Just make sure you keep it academic and play down the emotion so you are perceived as an intelligent learner.

6. Arrogance.

The great speaker Walter Bond said: "Confidence is arrogance under control." Learn the difference so people won't think you are a jerk when they meet you.

7. Cussing.

I live in New York, where profanity is a primary language. But not everyone sees it that way. When you cuss at the outset, you demonstrate you have little discretion for what comes out of your mouth. Always wait to hear the other person curse first before you do and you’ll never go wrong.

8. Sloppy clothing.

You don't have to appear rich, but you should dress in clean, neat clothing. Most people can tell the difference between an intentional, shabby chic style versus someone who doesn't know how to wash or iron their clothes.

9. Bad breath.

The challenging part of halitosis is that you may not know you have it. And no one really wants to tell you. Most bad breath issues come from food or poor dental hygiene. You can remedy both. Keep fresh mints handy for after meals and take care of your teeth and gums.

10. Facial tattoos.

That star by your eye was a cute idea when you were fronting a rock band, but in the business world most people just assume you had poor judgment. There are laser options today to help you show up bright and clean.

11. Excessive texting.

When meeting people, if you can't stop looking at your phone, or worse, responding, you will send a signal that you find no one more important than yourself. Truly, you can last 15 to 30 minutes without knowing what your BFF is up to. That Apple Watch isn't helping either, since people now think you are constantly checking the time. Be present in the moment.

12. Gossiping.

If people hear you talking about others in an unflattering or tactless way, they immediately assume you will speak similarly of them when they are not present. Show some discretion.

13. Body odor.

Like bad breath, you may be unaware, and people struggle with telling you. Solve the problem proactively by showering, using deodorant, and washing your clothes. And lay off the cologne and perfume -- an eye-burning cloud of Chanel only makes things worse.

14. Using blue humor.

It's great to make people laugh, but you can't possibly know people's sensitivities when you first meet them. They may giggle or smile politely but inside they are questioning your tact and couth. Keep it clean until you know people for real.

15. Being intolerant.

We all get tired of hearing from the PC police, but in truth most people really don't want to offend others. When you engage in the business world, you make a conscious choice to deal with people of all types. When you show people you are intolerant, it makes them wonder why you are so damaged.

16. Sexism.

Men and women will likely never completely understand each other, but that doesn’t mean they have to be dismissive. There are natural and distinctive masculine and feminine traits that can appear in either sex, so make it easy and just deal with people as individuals and professionals.

17. Complaining.

If you whine at an initial meeting you are telegraphing that you are difficult and dissatisfied. No one wants to work with the unhappy person. Change your situation.

18. Rambling.

A good story can be entertaining, but continual droning on about nothing will send others running for the door as soon as they can do it politely. Keep your communication brief and to the point.

19. Odd facial piercings.

Despite the broader acceptance of piercings in society, it would be a mistake to think an eyebrow or tongue piercing doesn’t raise questions of judgment. You may overcome it with your talent, but others might question why you would need to create such an obstacle in the first place.

20. Interrupting.

A good, lively conversation requires give and take. There is a flow and there may be stopping and starting by either party. Still, blurting out your opinion while cutting off someone else’s train of thought gets annoying super fast. Let people finish their ideas so they feel appreciated.

21. Eye-rolling.

This habit can be entertaining among your friends, but in a first meeting it comes off as dismissive and judgmental. Show people you are open and eager. Then you can eye-roll together when you have an established relationship.

22. Unkempt hair.

Hair is a highly noticeable way to show people how you see yourself. Styles that are modern and well kept will signal that you know who you are and care about detail. Bad hair on your head or face says you don't care enough about yourself to bother.

23. Humble-bragging.

People can tell when you are being pretentious. The only people who will be impressed with your complaints about your achievements and status are the people who don't matter.

24. Not listening.

Everyone wants to feel important and appreciated. Take a reciprocal approach and be the first to offer your focused attention. The less you say, the more they will like you.

25. Oversharing.

No one wants to be treated like a Facebook friend when they meet you. They don't need to know about your dating exploits, bowel movements, or child troubles at the first encounter. Always leave them wanting more.

Published on: Sep 21, 2015
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