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Three Seconds: The First Impression

Estimated Lesson Time: 8 minutes

It is said that people form opinions of you within the first three seconds of meeting you. I questioned the validity of this statement until I put it to the test and realized that I do it as well. We all keep mental files on people we know or just know of. Each time one of our senses is triggered for the first time by that person, the file is opened for about three seconds and then it is closed. The first impressions that are formed are extremely important because once the file is closed, it is not easy to get reopened. We need to be sure that the first impressions we are making are the right ones.

I would like to adapt this three-second theory to include my own “sixth sense” theory. I believe we all actually have six chances to make a first impression. There are many ways we can “meet” somebody. Each way involves the use of one of our most commonly known five senses, and our “sense” of intuition. For example, when we see someone for the first time we create a new file on this person based on sight only. The file is open for about three seconds, and then it is closed. However, when we are introduced to that person, the file is once again opened for another three seconds when we hear their voice for the first time and feel their handshake. We form our impressions mostly from sight, sound and touch. Knowing this, we need to do our best to trigger positive responses for each sense in the people we meet.

  • Sight. The majority of first impressions are formed by appearance. Appearance includes the clothes we wear, our expressions, our posture, eye contact and our personal grooming.
  • Sound. These impressions are formed when we speak. In general, it is the sound of voice.
  • Touch. Impressions are made the moment physical contact is made between two people for the first time. The most common form of this physical contact is a handshake.
  • Smell. Some people have a pleasing scent, and some have a distracting odor. Detecting these smells on someone for the first time once again opens up the mental file on that person for about three seconds.
  • Taste. Unlike dogs, we do not go around licking other people when we meet them. As a result, we generally do not rely on our taste to make an impression on others. However, feeling different about a romantic interest after the first kiss may very well be a result of this three-second impression formed by taste.
  • Intuition. Have you ever met someone and despite his or her good eye contact, great smell, warm smile and pleasing voice, something inside you keeps you from liking this person? (Dads, I am not talking about meeting your daughter’s first date.) This is our intuition taking over.

The goal of making first impressions is to make the impressions positive. Here are several suggestions on how to make a positive first impression. Please excuse some of the overly critical and somewhat sarcastic comments, but being aware of extremes will help you to make the right impressions.

  • Dress appropriately. This does not always mean wearing a suit, but dressing for the occasion. Be aware of the message your style of dress is sending other people. Are you wearing the same clothes you bought back in 1972? Does your shirt have a mustard stain still there from the 1994 World Series? Are you the only one dressed in jeans at your grandmother’s funeral? As a rule of thumb, it is best to dress just a little nicer than the occasion may call for.
  • Be well groomed. Do everything your mother taught you growing up: brush your teeth, wash your face, comb your hair, etc. Adult men should keep their nails trimmed, be well shaved (or keep a trimmed beard), and beware of the unibrow (eyebrows growing together). As for adult women, keep fingernails at a reasonable length, go easy on the make-up, and unless you are going for the female grunge look, shave the armpits.
  • Smile on the inside. When you are happy, your entire body shows it. Try to avoid meeting people when you are in a negative state or bad mood.
  • Carry yourself well. Be attentive to your posture. Stand or sit up straight with your chin up. Portray confidence.
  • Make good eye contact. Look at those you meet directly in the eyes and do not break eye contact while you are still shaking the person’s hand. This is especially important when meeting several people at the same time.
  • Be aware of your breath. People are rarely aware of the fact that they have bad breath. If you are one of those people, ask a good friend or someone you trust if you have bad breath. If you are a smoker or a coffee drinker, just assume that you do have bad breath and have mints ready for after your cup of coffee or smoke.
  • Air yourself out. As a non-smoker (would you ever have guessed?), I can say that just standing near someone who smells like the Kool camel, is extremely uncomfortable and somewhat offensive. If you are a smoker, you may be able to avoid these negative impressions by not smoking in closed areas or near other people.
  • Use deodorant to prevent odor, not create a new smell. This might be more of a personal issue I have, but I am baffled how many strong scented deodorants stay on the market. If you want to radiate a scent, you generally do not want that scent coming from your armpits. If there are others who feel as I do on this issue, you might want to try unscented antiperspirant and deodorants.
  • Use perfume or cologne sparingly. Perfumes and colognes can be great for associating yourself with a pleasing scent. Be aware, however, that the nose gets used to the smell over time, which generally causes people to use more and more perfume or cologne to achieve what they believe to be the same result. When this happens, negative impressions are formed. Once again, ask a good friend or someone you trust if they think you wear too much perfume or cologne.
  • Speak clearly and confidently. When you first meet someone, never mumble or slur your words. It is best to say in a strong, confident voice, “It is a pleasure to meet you (name),” or something similar.
  • Master the handshake. It is best to match the grip of the person with whom you are shaking hands. Avoid both the bear grip and the dead fish grip. For men, it is best to offer your hand with your palm slightly upward as a sign of openness.

Put this theory to the test yourself. Have you ever seen a picture of someone, formed impressions, then sometime later heard them speak and felt completely different about that person? Perhaps you even met them in person at a later date and found out that they are very liberal with perfume, and once again, your impression of that person changed. First impressions are based on the senses so be aware of the messages you send to others you first meet. Then, make the changes needed to ensure you are making positive first impressions. Remember, you only get six chances to make a first impression.

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If you like what you are reading, please consider these options in addition to this course. They include a hardcopy of the book and an intensive course with action steps, assignments, and personal coaching from Bo.

  • Buy the Book. Year To Success - Available in hardcover, signed by the author. Also available in ebook, paperback, and audio from Amazon.com.
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 Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):

  • Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
  • Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
  • What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)
    From the Course:
    Personal Development
    Year To Success
    Bo Bennett, PhD

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    Personal Development : Personal Transformation
    Offered by VirversitY
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