Seven seconds. That’s how long it takes to make a first impression, according to researchers at New York University. And in that time, a person can make up to 11 initial judgments about you—enough information to decide whether he or she likes you or not. The difference between being well received or walked out on is combining a positive vibe with knowing what to say, so you can give an accurate portrayal of who you are and why people should like you.
It’s easy to write off the importance of that first encounter. But consider this: That first impression, whatever it is, may be a label that’s affixed to you for the rest of your life, whenever you see these people.
So, our job is to make sure you don’t dig yourself a hole you can’t get out of.
Our initial evaluations are oftentimes extremely accurate. In research conducted at Princeton University, subjects watched a microsecond clip of political candidates and then predicted the outcome of the election. Shockingly, they were right 70% of the time, despite having only a tenth of a second to make a judgment.
This is not to say that you should emulate Congress, be disingenuous, and try to predict what vibe you think you should give off to anyone you meet. Whether it’s work colleagues, potential dates, or even service people, your approach should always be the same. Your job is to think first about what people will see and how it will be received, and then focus on what you will say.
The impression you leave starts before you even make your introduction. Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy has done some incredible work showing that how you position your body—she actually calls it “posing”—can make you come across as more confident and likable. Striking a powerful pose, such as stretching out your arms and legs and puffing up your chest to make yourself appear bigger, causes hormonal changes that trigger brain chemicals that can make you feel and even appear more attractive. The power pose was shown to increase testosterone and lower cortisol, which is the perfect cocktail for confidence when entering a room.
You must also make sure your body and clothes back up this image. If you’re going into an interview, a suit is almost always the best way to go. Meeting your girlfriend’s parents? Go with a blazer over a button-down and jeans. But in reality, what you wear isn’t as important as how well the clothing fits and if you pay attention to the small details. A $300 suit that’s tailored to fit perfectly will look better than the $2,000 designer suit that’s fresh off a mannequin.
These are the characteristics of a person in control. And the more you feel in control of your presence, the more that confidence radiates when you make your introduction.
Make sure you’re asking questions rather than talking about yourself. Most people start by feeling a need to prove their own worth, and so they talk themselves up at every opportunity. But research shows that people who ask questions are more likely to be viewed favorably. So if your counterpart walks away feeling good about his or herself, that internal feeling will result in an outward positive feeling about you.
In addition to asking questions, be memorable when you need to answer those that are put to you. When filling out a r
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