Sales Skills

The Three Characteristics of Making a Positive First Impression

How many times have you heard, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression?”  How many times have you said it?  Do you believe it?

The Power of an Impression

An “impression” is a mark, indentation, or figure produced by pressure.  This impression is a strong effect produced on one’s intellect, feelings, or conscience.   Therefore, a first impression is the 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 is like a Polaroid picture – a head-to-toe image that develops instantly and never entirely fades.

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 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, competence, and physical attractiveness.  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.  Warmth is best reflected by one’s outlook and attitude.  Competence comes across through verbal communication.  And physical attractiveness is all about appearance.  The “Warmth and Competence Model” is universally accepted as to how humans perceive and judge each other.  According to Chris Malone, Chief Advisory Officer of 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 (i.e., intends good or ill).  And, then, whether the other has the ability to enact those intentions.  People perceived as warm, competent and attractive elicit uniformly positive emotions and behavior, whereas 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.

Appearance is the primary aspect of an individual’s personality that meets the eye.  An unkempt look, body odor or bad breath top the chart in casting a poor impression.  Communication skills fall next in line.  Articulation influences the first impression as it implies 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.

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.