By Yvonne Milosevic
Did you know that we make near-instant assessments of people when we first meet them? According to prior research by Chicago Booth psychology professor Alexander Todorov, when we see a new face, our brains decide whether a person is attractive and trustworthy within a tenth of a second. That’s a lot of pressure! First impressions matter, whether we’re talking about a job interview or meeting your future mother-in-law for the first time. Unfortunately, not every first impression we make is fantastic. Today we’re sharing two pointers to help you undo the damage of a bad first impression.
Start by Apologizing ASAP
There are a thousand plausible reasons you might have caused a bad first impression. Maybe you had a terrible night’s sleep and are stumbling through every encounter in a grouchy fog. Or perhaps you had a fight over the phone with your sister moments before walking into a meeting with a new client. And that borderline sexist joke you made to the woman at the bar? Not a good look.
Since first impressions happen so quickly, your apology should be just as swift. Don’t let embarrassment keep you from addressing the misstep head-on. If you can offer a legit explanation for your sour mood/distracted behavior/nervous attempt at humor, do it right away. Often, it’s the lack of an apology rather than the initial blunder that cements that bad impression.
Unfortunately, in the case of an important job interview or new client meeting, you may not get a do-over. Nevertheless, making a sincere apology can take some of the sting out of the situation.
Next, Be Consistent Over Time
The best way to correct misperceptions is to consistently give off the impression you want to transmit. If you know you came off as scatterbrained the first time you met a coworker, make sure to be extra prepared in all future meetings. The same idea applies if you were uncharacteristically curt to a new hire. Try to convey warmth, humor, or humility in your future encounters.
It can take time to undo that negative initial reaction, but it’s not impossible. Todorov believes people can overcome a bad first impression if they counter it with an abundance of positive interactions. “If you have a new colleague and your first impression of them is bad, but you have lots of opportunities to observe them, you may change your mind,” he notes.
“The question is whether you will be in a situation where you can shake that first impression, whether you will have the opportunity to observe someone under different circumstances,” Todorov adds. “Stereotypes can persist in the absence of information to correct them.”
Finally, it’s important to remember that sometimes, our interpretation of events isn’t 100% accurate. While you might still be stewing over a questionable comment you made weeks ago, the other person may have already forgotten it. The best thing to do is to let it go and focus on making the best first impressions you can in the future.
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