Seven seconds – thirty seconds, tops – that’s all the time it takes some to assess your confidence, competence, status, likeability, warmth, and trustworthiness.
It’s impossible for people not to make these snap judgments about you. Our brains are wired that way.
Blame it on the limbic system, in particular the amygdala, which is the first part of the brain to receive information and react to it. The amgydala takes in all incoming stimuli and decides instantly whether or not it is threatening. Before the conscious mind has had time to logically evaluate someone, the limbic brain has already made a decision. Because these decisions are made without a logical process of deliberation, they impact us with the immediacy and power of an old-brain survival imperative – unconsidered, unannounced, and in most cases, impossible to resist.
Once people have labeled you as trustworthy or deceptive, powerful or submissive, friend or foe, they will go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to hang onto their initial judgment: They will seek out information that confirms what they believe to be true, they will look for and take note of any behaviors that reinforce that opinion and ignore or downplay behaviors that are contradictory. It’s called “confirmation bias,” and it’s why first impressions stick.
While you can’t control other people’s biases or past experience, you can use your body language to send the right signals. Here are seven body language tips for making a great first impression:
1. Adjust your attitude. People pick up your attitude instantly. A study at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging that discovered it takes the brain just 200 milliseconds to gather most of the information it needs from a facial expression to determine a person’s emotional state. That’s why you can’t wait until you’re in a situation to “warm up.” You’ve got to walk in, already expressing the emotions you want to project.
2. Stand tall. Pull your shoulders back and hold your head high. This is a posture of confidence and self-esteem.
3. Smile slowly. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. It says, “I’m friendly and approachable.” A slow onset smile leads to even more positive reactions. So, begin with a slight smile and let it grow organically.
4. Make eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (Tip: Look in people’s eyes long enough to notice what color they are. That will make hold eye contact just a bit longer.)
5. Raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.
6. Lower your pitch. You’ll have them at “Hello” if your voice sounds warm and inviting. Don’t let nervousness take your voice into its higher range. Before speaking, take a deep breath and exhale through your mouth.
7. Shake hands. Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue. People react to a great handshake (palm to palm, web to web, firm, but not bone-crushing) by judging you as open, friendly, and trustworthy.
Remember – first impressions stick. That can work in your favor if you make sure yours is a good one!
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