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The first impression you make sets the tone for any new relationship, whether that relationship is with a CEO, an employee, or a client. Leaders often interact with individuals at all levels of the organization, as well as customers or clients, and need to be prepared to not only meet new people, but to make an impression with these individuals that is positive and lasting. The first opinion someone holds of you tends to endure, and these opinions are resistant to change. People tend to rely on their overall impression of an individual to interpret future interactions, therefore, forming a positive impression makes it more likely the individual will see further interactions with you in a positive light. It is critical that, as a leader, you put your best foot forward and leave an individual with a favorable opinion of your character and abilities.
In the workplace, setting a first impression involves the leaders’ ability to create a positive impact through social confidence, sincerity, dress, and verbal fluency. First impressions communicate a wealth of information about a leader, from the depth of their knowledge, to their ability to communicate and share information, to their authenticity and openness. Leaders who make a good first impression are those who leave others with the sense that they are competent, confident, and capable.
In assessing the kind of first impression you make, ask yourself the following questions:
Be mindful of your attire: Part of appearing confident and competent is to appear professional. One of the most basic ways to do so is through your dress and attire. When meeting new people, dressing appropriately shows a respect for the organization and for the individual you are meeting. When in doubt, it is always better to be overdressed than under-dressed. Remember, proper attire is about more than your outfit; hair should be neat, accessories kept minimal and functional, shoes should be clean. For women, light makeup is appropriate in the workplace. Dressing for the situation can help you feel more comfortable when meeting someone new, and set the right tone for a positive impression.
Context can influence the impression you make: Context may influence first impressions in a number of ways. First, the environment in which you’re meeting can make a difference. If you are meeting someone during an especially busy time, organizational change, or other periods of stress, you may be less prepared to appear pleasant or calm when introducing yourself and interacting with someone new. Second, the context of your day can also influence first impressions. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, tired, or upset, you may find it difficult to interact with someone new. Before your first meeting, try to take time to destress or relax, which will make you appear calm and confident rather than preoccupied or overwhelmed. If you find yourself meeting someone new unexpectedly, take a deep breath, smile, and offer the individual a handshake. Try your best to leave negative thoughts and emotions for after your meeting.
Follow up where possible: The first impression someone makes of you often encompasses your attitude, behavior, and mannerisms from your entire first encounter. This goes beyond the first conversations you have, and can provide opportunities to improve or strengthen the early impression you make. In cases where you are working on a first task or project with or for another individual, following up on your initial meeting can be a chance to demonstrate your interest and your ability to take change and interact with the new associate. This does not need to be elaborate, a phone call or email updating the status or progress of a shared project is often sufficient. Just remember, this opportunity should be used wisely. Reaching out too soon, too late, or when not appropriate can send the message that you are inexperienced or awkward with others.
The following steps can help you make a positive first impression with others:
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