Relationships

The Science of Making a Good First Impression


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It seems the old saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” may be true—at least according to recent research.

A bad first impression is hard to shake, according to a new study recently published in the journal Social Cognition. In five experiments that analyzed the “moral tipping point,” researchers concluded that “People require more evidence to perceive improvement than decline; it is apparently easier to become a sinner than a saint, despite exhibiting equivalent evidence for change.”

Once you’ve decided that someone is “bad,” it takes a lot of effort (and proof otherwise) to change your mind—more than it takes to decide that someone you previously believed to be a good person is actually bad.

This might be bad news for all of us currently shame-spiraling as we remember every single time we weren’t at our best when meeting someone new. The good news? Researchers have also spent plenty of time figuring out exactly what makes for a good first impression. So while you may not get a second chance to make a first impression, you may not even need one after following this advice:

Hey, eyes up here!

If you want to appear more intelligent, look your conversation partner in the eye. Those who are good at making (and keeping) eye contact are also perceived as more believable and earnest—as well as more confident and socially dominant.

Walk the walk

A tight gait can give the impression that you’re tightly wound, research suggests. If you want to appear extroverted and adventurous, focus on walking with a looser gait. (Interestingly, though perceptions were reliable, they weren’t accurate—those trait impressions didn’t match up with walkers’ self-reported traits.)

Express yourself

It’s not just what you say that matters; it’s how you say it. And saying it in an animated way can make you instantly more likable, researchers say. Scientists call it the “expressivity halo.” People who speak in an expressive manner tend to be liked more than people who are difficult to read, Professor Frank Bernieri of Oregon State University tells The Guardian. “Even if they’re expressing something such as irritation. Because we’re more confident in our reading of them, they’re less of a threat.”

Shake on it

A powerful handshake is a powerful thing, researchers say. “We found that it not only increases the positive effect toward a favorable interaction, but it also diminishes the impact of a negative impression,” researcher Sanda Dolcos explained in a University of Illinois press release.”Many of our social interactions may go wrong for a reason or another, and a simple handshake preceding them can give us a boost and attenuate the negative impact of possible misunderstandings.”

Think firm, confident and friendly—you don’t want to leave the recipient wincing in pain. In one study, men with strong handshakes (categorized by longer duration, strength and complete grip) were rated as more extroverted and less neurotic. Women with strong handshakes were rated as more liberal, intellectual and likable.

Have them at hello

How do you sound confident, even when you’re feeling anything but? Lower your tone of voice, make it less singsongy and use a greater range of loud and quiet volumes as you’re speaking.

Don’t dress to impress

Dress to match, instead. When you dress similarly to the person you’re meeting, you’ll seem warmer and more likable. No, we don’t suggest a wardrobe change every time you meet a new friend for drinks, but you may not want to bust out your power suit for an interview at a t-shirt-and-jeans office.

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