Master Your Message Blog

First Impressions

I like to travel in a jacket and dress slacks. There’s a reason for that. I think I get better treatment.

Over many years, I’ve proven that theory to myself, although some of the examples are arguable. This has not been a scientific study, after all.

I just got back from Kansas City. On the way there, I had to pick up a pre-booked rental car. The agent tried to up sell me, of course, and I had to tell her that the car was booked by a third party and I had no flexibility in price. However, I ended up getting an upgrade anyway – four levels above what was originally booked. I’m convinced that if I’d been in jeans and somewhat unkempt in appearance, it would have been a different outcome. That’s human nature.

In fact, in his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell zeros in on the two seconds in which we make initial judgments on virtually everything around us.

I do a talk on being a better communicator. In the early stages of that talk, I have the audience do an exercise in which they break off into couples (must be strangers) and each one provides their first impressions of the other member of their 2 person team. I do this for two reasons:

  1. They soon find that they make judgments based on appearance (particularly dress), facial expressions, vocabulary, accents and body language.
  2. They realize the importance of how THEY present THEMSELVES – that we judge each other based on just those elements.

We can shape other people’s impressions of us simply by how we present ourselves. How we dress is a very important part of that judging process.

It’s obvious how this relates to presentations. Knowing your audience is of paramount importance. Being sensitive to how you want them to perceive YOU should dictate your dress and your mannerisms.

But it also relates to different areas of our life. It’s fine to dress comfortably. BUT, be aware that when you go out in public, and interact with others, first impressions are being formed by each person you come in contact with. You know YOU do it, every time you see someone, much less talk to them. And everyone else is doing just the same thing.

We form an impression in only a few seconds. During the next four minutes or so, we can re-affirm that first impression or change it and form another one, based on interaction. However, after that 4 minutes are up and the impression has been formed, it will get much harder to change it.

We DO get treated as our appearance dictates. You might think about that next time you travel . . . or next time you get up in front of an audience . . . or ask for a raise.

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