Did you know that when you meet a new person, they make an almost instant judgement of your attractiveness, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness in less than a second? Then they justify this instant (emotional) judgement with logic.
I’m currently reading The Social Animal by David Brooks, and his point of view, which is becoming more and more popular, is that many of the decisions we make are made at a sub-concious and emotional level, then justified by our logical mind.
This is how advertising works. For example, in our aging population people might see a new “age-defying cream”, with a gorgeous model with lovely skin. The image strikes a chord in them, it brings out their longing for the energy, vitality and sexual appeal of youth.
In that micro-moment the sale is made.
Then their sub-concious delivers to the concious mind the desire to have the result, and the concious mind attempts to justify the purchase. And another $50 is spent on a cream that may or may not have any positive effect at all.
So, how does this relate to being a better communicator? Let me throw in another data point before I answer that question.
Studies have shown that between 55% and 80% (depending on the study) of our communication is non-verbal. So that first impression that they are going to measure you for the rest of your relationship by – is how you look.
When we want to be influential at work, at home, in our lives overall, we need to consider how we look.
What do I mean by how we look?
Well, it is true that the basics, like age, race, height, weight do make a difference, even if we don’t want them to.
I actually was really surprised to gain insight into my own biases when I took some of the Harvard Implicit association test quizes. You might check them out here:
Of course, our basic demographics, size, race, age we can’t do much about (regardless of the advertising to the contrary).
I think a more important and useful step will be to really look at the non-verbal messages that we give out in the way we dress, our posture, breathing, and even gestures and voice tone.
Let’s look at some ways that we can create a great first impression with our bodies:
- Dress to make an impression. This doesn’t mean always wear a suit, or to take out the nose ring. There may be situations where a suit is not appropriate. I was with Brendon Bruchard this weekend and he mentioned leading a youth seminar where his wearing a tie actually created a negative impression. It created more of a sense of distance between him and the students.
What I am advocating is that you think about it. One rule of thumb I’ve heard is when going to a professional or business meeting, dress one level classier than the people around you. So if they are in sport coats, wear a tie. If they are in business casual, wear a sport coat. If they are in shorts, wear jeans.
On the other hand if you are trying to make a great first Punk impression, than get a feeling for how much make-up and how many earrings, and how outlandish the people around you will be dressing, and decided if you want to go one step higher (more make-up, more earrings) if you have the other verbal and non-verbal confidence to carry that off, or blend in more by matching the people around you.
When I am invited to a new situation where I want to make a great first impression I often ask what the people around me are going to be wearing. Then I’ll sometimes have an extra blouse or shirt in the car just as a back-up if I feel out of place. I’ve found that the more I am dressed at the same level as those around me, the more comfortable I feel with them as well. So it’s a two way street.
- Be aware of your posture. Get into the habit of having a posture that expresses what you want to express. Again, this doesn’t mean that you always need to have the upright “I’m confident and in control” posture.
For example, a friend was lamenting that she never got asked out on a date in social situations. I watched her at a church gathering. She looked very confident and assured and in-control. She did not look open, approachable and friendly. We dive into this subject in more detail in our non-verbal communication courses. This gives you some ideas to start with.
- Breathing. Breathing is probably the most powerful and subtle information cue that people never really think about. Wheather consciously or unconciously you are probably picking up on the breathing patterns of those around you, and making decisions about them based upon what you learn. Breathing high in the chest is usually interpreted as less authoritative and more agitated, and breathing deep in the belly is seen as calmer, more authoritative and more trustworthy. A side benefit is that your brain gets more oxygen and you will feel clearer, smarter and more on top of things.
When it is important to you to make a great first impression consider:
- Wearing clothing that is similar to the clothing of those around you.
- What posture you want to present. Generally a good idea to have a confident posture – then consider the nuances of an open posture or an “in-control” posture.
- Breathe deeply into your stomach. Especially good right before you make a phone call or meet someone for the first time to take a deep full breath.