November 13, 2014

How to Overcome a Poor First Impression

Flickr CC via Premier of Ontario Photography

The overall consensus when meeting someone new is that you have thirty seconds to make a good impression. From the handshake to your following conversation, it can feel like a lot of pressure to nail such an interaction on the first try. But what can you do if you make a poor first impression? Whether you forget their name or a joke falls flat, top networkers say there are ways to bounce back.

“It is much easier to turn a good first impression into a bad overall impression than it is to turn a bad first impression into a good one,” said Anna Musson, an etiquette expert. When we meet someone new, our sensitivity and guard levels go up. “We like to think that we’re right and once we’ve made up our mind about a person we need to be persuaded otherwise.”

Sometimes our insecurities get the best of us, and it’s easy to assume that others might think the worst of you. However, what we imagine is often far worse than reality. Own up to your feelings, and don’t make assumptions. Time is of the essence when it comes to damage control, but take the time to formulate your next interaction to address the issue.

Acknowledging where the breakdown might have stemmed from –-a joke or a curse word, for example— can be cleared with a simple, “I apologize for how I behaved and I realize I might have offended you.” Don’t over-apologize; so keep it polite and concise. Don’t put the other person in the uncomfortable position of having to reassure you.

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Be sincere, and own up to any breakdown during an impression without blaming others or circumstances. Depending on the situation, self-deprecating humor can really help you. Be mindful that it’s only directed at yourself, and does not make others uncomfortable. This can provide an opening for you to recover, but remember that too much humor can have the same effect as over-apologizing.

Every impression you create is a learning experience and can help you improve your body language and communication skills. Overcoming a poor first impression requires total ownership of your behavior and adds to your confidence and ability to learn from such mistakes. It’s also an opportunity for you to be mindful of appropriate interactions, and to monitor your behavior to make the best impressions possible in the future.