Body Language and First Impressions
The study of body language is interesting from an academic standpoint but there are many practical applications as well. First impressions, and the associated non-verbal cues, are one example of an area where your knowledge of body language has many practical applications.
Body Language Influencing a First ImpressionNobody can say for certain exactly how much body language influences a first impression, but some research indicates it might be as high as 90% responsible for the first impression you create. That’s a huge percentage, especially when you consider the importance of first impressions and how they set the stage for further interactions.
A first impression is usually formed within just a few seconds; most of the time you haven’t even said a full sentence before a first impression is made. This may not seem fair, and it certainly doesn’t sound very politically correct in our modern world, but the fact remains that first impressions are incredibly important. Anything you can do to improve the first impression you make is a huge positive step.
The Main Elements of a First Impression?These will vary depending on the situation; some elements are more important in a business situation, for example, while others come to the fore in a social situation. In general, however, the main elements of a first impression are as follows:
Appearance – Is your appearance appropriate for the situation? Are you well groomed and clean? Is your hair combed? Is your clothing clean and neat? Do you ‘stand out’ from the crowd or blend in?
Body movement and position – Do you move with confidence and an upright body position? Is your head hanging down, or held upright? Is your walk steady, not too fast or too slow?
Facial expression – Do you have a pleasant facial expression, appropriate for the situation? Do your eyes appear bright and interested, or dull and bored? Is your face expressive or locked into a single look?
Eye contact – Do you make steady eye contact? Do your eyes dart back and forth or do you stay focused? Are you staring inappropriately? Does your eye contact match your overall facial expression?
The variations and combinations of elements affecting first impressions are nearly endless. You cannot possibly factor in all possibilities, but you can take your knowledge of body language and apply it to first impression situations with deliberate thought and choice.
First Impressions Gone BadOkay, it happens. You’ve made a bad first impression. Now what should you do? Again, the steps you should take to correct a poor first impression depend entirely on the situation. In some situations, you will have a second chance, while in others you will not.
For instance, in a job interview, the first impression you create is important, but so are the answers you give to interviewer questions. If you think your first impression was not all that great, focus on using your very best body language during the interview itself will help. Many interviewers will forgive a poor first impression if you handle it well, such as you tripped on the stairs coming in or you became lost trying to find your way through the building. In these cases, you might briefly acknowledge the faux pas, offer a brief, sincere apology or explanation, and then move on to the business at hand. Make eye contact, and be aware of your own facial expressions.
What about social situations? Gender has a great influence in this area, as women tend to be more tuned in to body language and therefore are more likely to form rapid first impressions. Your gender matters, too, because the kind of first impression you make on someone else (male or female) is somewhat influenced by your own gender. For instance, if you are female and meet another couple for the first time, the woman might be quicker to form an impression if she views you as a potential threat to her relationship. The same holds true if you are a man in the same situation; the other man may approach the interaction from an entirely different perspective than the other woman.
What about the first impressions you form about others? There’s value in looking at your own patterns of forming first impressions of other people and how well you interpret their body language. Do you find yourself often forming negative or harsh judgments of others? Perhaps you need to re-examine how and why you are so quick to develop those kinds of impressions. Or, do you find yourself often judging others positively, only to find later on that you were duped or misled? Perhaps you also need to re-examine your patterns, and be a bit more discerning in how you interpret information.