According to research cited in the Harvard Business Review, it takes less than 150 milliseconds for someone to form a first impression. Human nature is such that we process verbal and non-verbal cues immediately—and use that intelligence to decide on the spot if someone is a likable person.
First impressions are difficult to unwind, which is why it’s so important to get them right off the bat. One secret to making a great one is to avoid the things that sabotage even our best intentions.
Here are seven bad habits to avoid when making that all-important first encounter.
1. Bad Body Language
People tend to judge personal appearances first, especially our body language. Bad posture and a weak handshake will signal a lack of confidence—and can put a swift end to promising introductions.
Take the time to learn different forms of positive body language. One easy rule is to start and end all in-person meetings with a smile and firm handshake. Remember, how you close a meeting can be just as important as your initial greeting.
2. Criticizing Other People
Making disparaging remarks, even if throwing in a “present company excluded,” can quickly erase any points won from a favorable start. People will assume that if you talk badly about someone, at some point you’ll do the same to them. Remember what Thumper’s wise mom told him: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
3. Poor Appearance
It’s true that “clothes don’t make the person.” Yet, it’s also true that humans make snap judgments about other people without knowing them.
While you might be very successful, if you’re wearing a shoddy t-shirt and standing next to a clean, presentable person, odds are that people will introduce themselves to the other person. They might not get the chance to learn how successful or talented you are.
I make an effort to dress well, no matter the occasion. I’ve found that presenting myself well and looking “put together” makes me stand out and attract a warm introduction.
4. Avoiding Eye Contact
When you avoid or don’t maintain good eye contact, you block someone from making a human connection with you. Eyes are expressive, so when you look down your intentions are harder to read. You might also come across as uncomfortable or insincere.
Good leaders make eye contact. Eye contact also allows you to receive crucial feedback and to persuade. A word of caution: Don’t go too far and try to intimidate your competitors by swapping out eye contact for a stare. That strategy worked for Michael Phelps, but it might not work for you.
Want to know how to get someone to not like you almost immediately? Interrupt him. Don’t let him finish his thoughts. Just cut him off and say what you want to say.
Interruptions make people feel frustrated and even defensive—and make productive conversation impossible. Exercise self-awareness and stop interrupting people.
6. Judging Others
When you engage with people, do you feel an urge to offer unsolicited advice on their ideas or business? If so, that’s a surefire way to get people to avoid interacting with you.
Unless people ask for your opinion, keep your feedback to yourself and be uplifting instead. If you feel the need to help, express genuine interest and ask questions that could prompt new discoveries. Or, offer support by saying, “Good luck with that project. Let me know if I can help in any way.”
No one wants to be on the receiving end of complaints or burdensome problems, especially when first meeting you. Complaining breeds negativity, and successful people don’t make space for negativity. They won’t risk their positive mental states and go-to attitudes. If you’re a complainer, they’ll simply stop talking to you.
My advice here is simple: Keep things positive. Look for ways to feel and express gratitude—allow that state of mind to be your guidepost.
It only takes a few moments for people to form a lasting impression of you. Follow the guidance above, and you’ll make great first interactions with everyone you meet.
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Photo of people meeting courtesy of Robert Daly/Getty Images.