We all want to manage impressions of ourselves (except for those who truly don't care or who appear on CBS's Big Brother). We don't want to come across insecure or appear indecisive, for example, which can be hard to monitor.
But no impression is more difficult to manage (and is potentially more damaging) than the first impression. It's easy to screw up.
But you'll get a second chance.
The Study In Depth
According to a new 1,500 person psychology study from Yale University, it turns out you'll have science on your side--we're wired to forgive people.
In the interesting study, participants watched good and bad moral acts play out. They watched strangers who were given the choice to a) administer an electric shock to someone for more money or b) to not administer that shock for no extra money. Thus, the strangers were either in a "good behavior" or "bad behavior" grouping. The participants were then asked to rate their overall impression of the good and bad strangers from horrendous to nice.
The study participants were very sure of the ratings they gave the nice people. They were quite uncertain about the rating they gave the bad people.
The research indicates that we're much less certain about those leaving bad impressions on us because we know that to set that impression in stone means we'll never enter a relationship with them, thus eliminating a chance for social connection (a deep-seated, psychological need).
So we'll subconsciously give benefit of the doubt to the bad person (knowing that people make mistakes) in an attempt to stay open to new information that will change our impression. As the researchers behind the study put it, "Incorrectly attributing bad character to good people damages existing relationships and discourages forming new relationships."
Thus, the stakes are high so we stay open to new information about someone--and this openness directly fosters forgiveness.
In other words, if the person is willing to provide new information, i.e. change their behavior and put a more positive face forward, we'll alter our first impression for the better.
Take advantage of this psychological tendency and get to work molding a better impression the second time.
Getting It Right the Second Time Around
I've certainly blown more than one first impression (entrepreneurs get lots of swings at the first impression plate) and have successfully followed a specific pattern to recover.
First, try to discern what you did that garnered a negative first impression and openly address it next time by indicating awareness of the impression you left, addressing how you inadvertently left that impression, and that it was not your intent. We consistently intend to act one way, but actually, act in another. People understand that.
Demonstrating purity of intent will only take you so far, of course. Then you have to follow it up quickly with better actions.
Next, genuinely act to show who you really are. Phoniness at this point will be nuclear for the relationship, so ensure sincerity. Don't try too hard but do try to put your best self forward. Show the qualities that have drawn others to you before, qualities that your friends are drawn to.
More than anything, it's about caring enough to recognize your first-time foible and showing real effort and commitment to make amends and show up (and be) better.
So, the old mantra "You never get a second chance to make a first impression" is just that-- old and outdated. Put the effort in to do better the second time around. And make it count as I don't think the other old mantra, "Three strikes and you're out", will save you.