How to Make a Good First Impression--or NOT!

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 attentionwith 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

5. Verbosity

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

9. Jewelry

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?

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