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A Great Comeback

Can you reverse a bad first impression?  Yes, as long as you follow a few simple steps

Many of us have read about the importance of positive body language, the correct pressure of a handshake or how much eye contact we should make when we meet someone for the first time. But often, that initial encounter doesn’t work out the way we wished. Perhaps we rushed in late after transport problems, maybe the last phone call we took before the meeting was fraught and we arrived feeling stressed, perhaps we just lost focus and didn’t have the calm, professional impact we had planned. Is it game over? An opportunity gone for good?

Not necessarily. It is possible to reverse a disastrous first impression and there are many ways. Renowned TED speaker, consultant and author of Start With Why, Simon Sinek, has this advice: be honest. “Do not try and do this over email as it could be misinterpreted. If you simply pick up the phone, you can say, ‘I think I came across poorly when I met you. I was a little bit excitable, I was nervous and I just wanted to put it out there that I wasn’t particularly proud of how I came across.’ If someone responds to that then that’s a good thing, and if they don’t, well you wouldn’t want to work with them anyway!” The main point is that honesty is the best policy.

Impressions can be fluid, they can evolve over time, so while you may not get a second chance to make a first impression, you can create the opportunity to correct one. A first impression is a beginning, not an ending; it is not a make-or-break moment. Consider the colleagues you’ve met who’ve taken a while to warm up, or the friend that you didn’t get at first. If you want someone to get to know you, create situations where they can. For example, volunteer to work on the project with someone who you think doesn’t rate you. By witnessing your skills and talents over a longer period of time, their impression of you may change.

In some cases, you may even have to play the long game. Have patience, Roz Usheroff, a leadership, image and branding specialist, says: “Recognise that changing someone’s perception will take time. No matter who you are, you will inevitably make a less than positive impression on someone. While some have suggested that it can take months or even years to erase a bad first impression, a Harvard study suggests that it will take eight subsequent positive encounters to change that person’s negative opinion of you. In this context be persistent and patient.”

It’s also worth turning to the other person for advice. Kristi Hedges, a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others, notes: “If you feel that you didn’t make a positive impression, follow up and ask the other person for advice on where to improve. This also allows you to get in front of the person again and make a new impression.” Whatever your route, be confident that a first impression is one of multiple touchstones and signifies the beginning of a relationship, not the end. Remember it is fluid and can be influenced so don’t walk away despondent; be imaginative, honest and upfront.

This article was originally featured in The Informer. To read the full magazine, please click here.