Whether starting a new job or meeting with a potential client, the old adage applies: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
We’re so focused on “putting our best foot forward,” we can often miss a chance for real connection—we can actually trip ourselves up on that best foot!
Think about how you interact with others you’re meeting for the first time…When we first meet someone, our instant analysis results in several assumptions about that person. In fact, we’re already concluding certain “facts” about them before they even open their mouth. We might look at the way they’re dressed, the way they hold themselves, their eyes or their smile.
We also apply a bunch of context when we meet a new person. When we walk into a new office for a business meeting, we’ve already assessed what that person’s position is based on his or her dress and location within the office. We’re probably assuming the person behind the front desk is the receptionist, rather than the CEO.
That first impression gives us a lot of fodder to chew over. We’ve already figured out quite a bit before we even start to speak. But do we really know anything about that person? Do we feel connected to them—or are they just another person we pass by?
You might think I’m talking about dressing the part, looking pulled together and fabulous—and yes, looking your best is part of it, but that’s not the whole idea. You could walk in with a feather boa or a loud Hawaiian shirt and that would certainly make an impression…but probably not the impression you want. It’s not about simply dressing so you stand out.
To make a great first impression, we must be present, engaged and open. It requires having confidence in yourself and knowing who you are. If you want to make a great first impression, embrace being true to yourself! Be genuine! Be real! Don’t hold back! Engage!
You’re always yourself, right? Doesn’t that sound silly to say? Of course, each and everyone one of us is the best “Me” we can be. We are who we are.
But what about the face we put on for others? The way we tamp down our desires, our feelings, and our yearnings? The way we downplay our vulnerabilities or put on a front to shield our emotional (real) selves from those around us.
Imagine you’re on a first date. You probably try to be on your best behavior. You’ve done your hair and picked out a nice outfit. You order something simple from the menu to ensure you won’t end up with a wedge of spinach between your teeth. You smile. You try to listen and make eye contact. You focus on interesting stories to showcase your great sense of humor, your winning personality…
But is that really your true self?
Each of us lies about what we put out to the world. Maybe we don’t like to think we lie because lying is bad and makes us sound fake, but it’s true. We all put on certain fronts and faces, especially when we’re trying to make a good impression. We don’t order the lobster or the filet mignon because we don’t want to appear greedy. We don’t speak up when someone says something we don’t agree with because we don’t want to appear argumentative. We fib about our true feelings.
The word lie implies that this type of behavior is always a bad thing, yet it’s not entirely negative. Taking pride in yourself to look your best, working extra hard a new endeavor, and pleasing clients at work will lead you to greater success and growth in your job. You can’t always tell a client you think they’re being a jerk. Sometimes you have to grin and bear it.
Putting on a great outfit, shining your shoes and doing your hair will make you feel invested in yourself. It will also make others believe you are worth investing in. It will let them know that YOU believe you’re special, so they should too. There’s no lie in being the best version of yourself.
That said, even if we’re smiling in a fabulous outfit and ready to do our best work, the key to making a great impression goes beyond that. The key is to be real and to truly engage with others.
Engagement can be a frightening thing: when we’re engaged, we’re honest and real, which makes us vulnerable. When we’re engaged, we don’t hold back. We speak up. We stand out. We get what we want! We put our innermost desires and our yearnings forward. We say what we really think.
Often we think it’s better not to make waves, but the truth is, those who don’t make waves miss out on opportunities.
Holding back causes us to miss out on life! It causes us to hide our real selves and miss the chance to connect. We miss the moments that really matter.
When we’re in a meeting, whether it’s the first day or the 251st day, we should commit to speaking our truth. We should commit to engaging and going for it!
To make a great first impression on anyone, listen to that person and find out who they are. Try to see them for what they really are in their truest light. What drives them? What do they long for most?
Each of us has a unique spark and an inner light that drives us, that makes us unique and beautiful. It’s that light that draws others to us and we can connect with the light in them. Listening to the other person is part of that. Asking questions, trying to see the other person’s full vision, and discovering how it aligns with your ideas will make a far greater first impression than any other action.
Share your ideas back. Explain your hopes and vision for how you’d like things to go. If you want to connect, let the person know that. You can even say, “I’m really hoping to connect with you and understand your vision for the company/meeting/situation. I’d like to share my ideas and see how they fit with yours.”
Will you get along with everyone? Will everyone like you and think your ideas are brilliant? No, of course not! But engaging with different people (even those you don’t feel connected to) can help you experience a richer, fuller life.
When you’re speaking up in a meeting or situation, test your vision. Are you trying to foster ideas for the greater good? Will your idea help the company grow? Will it help others in the meeting? Then put it out there!
Reaching outside ourselves and our narrow vision to an all-encompassing greater collective vision helps us connect with new people. It helps us make a great first impression on all those we meet. They’ll know our real “selves” and we’ll be better for it.
Don’t hold back—engage today! For more on how you can grow and get ahead in your job, please visit the Wright Foundation.
She is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.