Strategy & Execution

The Power of First Impressions

An “impression” is a mark, indentation, or a figure produced by pressure.  The impression is a strong effect produced on one’s intellect, feelings, or conscience.  Therefore, a first impression is that mark you make in the first moments of interacting with someone.  Initial encounters are emotionally concentrated events.  You walk away from them with a first impression that remains with you like a Polaroid picture.

What impression are you making?


The brain is immensely perceptive and takes into account every minor detail of one;s facial features.  The sight and sound around us are picked up by sense organs and the signal is passed to the brain.  These signals are then compared to the memories of the past experiences.  The interpretations of the signals play a key role in forming the first impression.

There are three primary characteristics that affect the initial engagement:

  • Warmth –best reflected by one’s outlook and attitude
  • Competence – comes across through verbal communication
  • Physical attractiveness – is all about appearance

Chris Malone

Chris Malone – Relational Capital Group

Within seconds of the first encounter, one’s brain is interpreting signals that relate to these characteristics and play the key role in forming the first impression.  The “Warmth and Competence Model” is universally accepted as to how humans perceive and judge each other.

According to Chris Malone, Chief Advisory Officer to the Relational Capital Group, this model has been researched and validated across 19 countries and cultures around the world and found to be an instinctive human thought process that aided survival and continues to be the way we perceive people, products and services today.

The model is as follows:

In encounters with others, people must quickly determine whether the “other” is a friend or foe.  Following that primary thought, we then look at the other’s ability to enact those intentions.  People perceived as warm, competent and attractive, elicit uniformly positive emotions and behaviors, while those perceived as lacking warmth, competence and attractiveness elicit negativity.

Recent research has shown that warmth, competence and attractiveness explain over 80% of how people perceive each other; and nearly 90% of the strength of business relationships.

hand shaking smileAppearance is the primary aspect of an individual’s personality that meets the eye.  And unkempt look, body odor or bad breath top the chart in casting a poor impression.  Communication skills fall next in line.  Articulation influences the fist impression as it implies to intelligence, educational background and technical competence.  Apart from words, voice modulation, pitch and gestures also hold significance.  Wandering eyes or fidgety gestures demonstrate a lack of interest.  A sloppy posture, avoiding eye contact, shaky voice and nervousness are prime hindrances to a positive first impression.

The Power of a Smile

Like it or not, judgments based on facial appearance play a powerful role in how we treat others, and how we are treated.  Psychologists have found that traits such as likeability, competence, and trustworthiness are interpreted in facial expressions.  Your smile is most important.  When you smile you are likely to get a warm reception.  It is hard for the other person not to reciprocate.

smileResearch from the University of California Medical School in San Francisco states we can pick up a smile from 30 meters away.  If you wait until you are shaking someone’s hand, it might be too late.  It’s also always a good idea to smile when you make e call, regardless of who you might be speaking with.  The warmth of a smile creates a positive first impression!

During the first encounter, your focus must be on the other person, not yourself.  Make the other person the center of attention and importance and begin the interaction on the right note.  Give the individual the opportunity to speak with emphasis on being a good listener.  The skills of good listening include stable eye contact and affirmative verbal clues that show that you are interested in learning more.

In my next post I will describe my Top Ten Strategies to Create a Positive First Impression!

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