Whether it takes 7 seconds or 17 minutes to make a first impression, people always seem astonished at what idiosyncrasy causes the gut reaction. That reaction may be positive or negative, but it pays to know how others perceive you.
After more than 30 years of personal coaching and studying the topics of interpersonal skills, body language, interviewing, and career advancement, these issues are mentioned most frequently as those that make someone memorable—typically for negative reasons. Of course, there’s always the outlier—the person who interprets the habit or trait positively.
So to be complete, I’ve listed both potential reactions below—the positive and the negative. Take your pick:
10 Tiny Things That May Ruin a Great First Impression
1. The “EST” Habit
Routinely “top” every comment someone else makes with one of your own. You have the “best” job, the “funniest” story, the “fastest laptop,” the “easiest” process for managing remote contractors.
The positive reaction: The most competent person in the room
The negative reaction: A blowhard—typically bragging without reason
2. Limp Body Language
Sauntering walk. Slumped shoulders. Small, limp gestures. Blank facial expression.
Positive reaction: Non-threatening or intimidating
Negative reaction: Low energy. Slow (physically and mentally). Low self-esteem.
3. Boisterous Laughter
Habitually loud, unrestrained laughter at almost any happening except for in the gravest situation
Positive reaction: Jovial, pleasant person
Negative reaction: Moronic behavior; trying to attract attention and knows no better way
4. Entering a Room Flamboyantly
Noisily in such a way that your entrance immediately attracts attention—with loud greetings, an entourage of people or things accompanying you, or extraordinarily late with profuse apologies to everyone
Positive reaction: Must be a confident, take-charge person
Negative reaction: A self-absorbed, insincere person
Talking incessantly about whatever topic is at hand—whether adding substantive or trivial comments
Positive reaction: Entertaining
Negative reaction: Nervous; can’t figure out what’s important and what’s not; boring
6. Nodding Continually as Others Speak
In meetings, in conversations, during lectures
Positive reaction: Pleasant, agreeable person
Negative reaction: Doesn’t this person have any opinions or ideas of their own?
7. Writing in Fragmented Spurts
Emails that read like stream-of-consciousness thoughts—sentence fragments, missing details—that leave readers guessing at what’s “between the lines”
Positive reaction: Must be a terribly busy person forced into an unfocused situation
Negative reaction: Must be illiterate
8. Overpowering Handshake
Either crushing the other person’s hand in a painful grip, or maneuvering the handclasp so that your own hand is always on top
Positive reaction: Powerful person
Negative reaction: Manipulator; trying to impress
Odd jewelry that distracts rather than compliments personal assets and clothes
Positive reaction: Risk-taker
Negative reaction: Attention-seeker, a rebel
10. Improper Grammar
Subject-verb disagreement. Misused words. Awkward sentence construction.
Positive reaction: Obviously, speaks multiple languages and this is not his/her native tongue
Negative reaction: Uneducated, native speaker of the language. Why is he/she unwilling to learn?