Whether we like it or not, first impressions matter. A good or bad first impression can mean the difference between landing the job or getting a polite rejection email; getting a first date or getting ghosted via text.
Given the stakes involved, do you know what kind of first impression you make?
My guest today is a psychologist who specializes in the science of first impressions and has written the most useful and thorough book on the topic that I’ve come across. Her name is Ann Demarais and her book is First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You. Today on the show, Ann explains how quickly we make a first impression and the psychological biases that influence how people judge you (and how you judge others).
We then dig into what you should focus on during a first interaction to give a good impression and the behaviors you may think come off as neutral or positive but actually read in a negative way. For example, you may think you’re giving off a relaxed vibe during a social interaction, but others might see you as aloof. Ann explains how to find these blind spots in your self-awareness and what to do about them.
We end our conversation by going through some actionable tips to become more charismatic, like how to keep a conversation going when your first meet someone, how to show interest in someone without looking creepy, and the common mistakes men make with their first impressions. And if you happen to blow your first impression, Ann shares how to recover.
- Ann’s response to the criticism “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover”
- The errors we make in our own first impressions of people
- How quickly are first impressions formed?
- The expressions and attributes that we think are positive, but are actually read as negative
- The ways in which we can actively create a positive mood in our environment
- The 4 social mindsets – 3 that derail you and 1 that leads to success
- The 4 social gifts that you can give people in any interaction
- How to appear more approachable and accessible
- Asking open-ended vs. close-ended questions
- What to talk about when you first meet someone
- Why it’s okay to talk about mundane things
- How much to self-disclose in conversation
- Elements of a first impression that aren’t so obvious
- Common mistakes that men make in their first impressions
- How different situations might be helped by different approaches
- Is it possible to recover from a bad first impression?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Why Your First Impression Matters
- Using Body Language to Create a Dynamite First Impression
- How to Recover from a Bad First Impression
- Social Briefing series
- The Halo Effect
- Overcoming Your Shyness series
- The 4 Social Mindsets
- Your 4 Social Gifts
- How to Make Yourself More Approachable
- Avoiding Conversational Narcissism
- How to Make Small Talk
- How to Make a Great First Impression With Your Place
- Small Talk: 5 Questions to Never Ask
First Impressions is one of the most insightful and useful social skills books that I’ve come across in a long time. What I love most about it is that it provides actions you can start doing today that will improve your social game immediately. .
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Whether we like it or not, first impressions matter. A good or bad first impression can mean difference to landing a job or getting a plight rejection email, getting a first date or getting ghosted via text. Given the stakes involved, do you know what kind of first impression you make? My guest today is a psychologist who specializes in the science of first impressions and has written the most useful and thorough book on a topic that I’ve come across.
Her name is Ann Demarais and her book is First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You. Today on the show Ann explains how quickly we make a first impression and the psychological biases that influence how people judge you and how you judge others. We then dig in to what you should focus on during your first interaction to give a good impression and the behaviors you may think come off as neutral or positive, but actually read in a negative way. For example, you may think you’re giving off a relaxed cool dude by your social interaction but others might see you as being aloof.
Ann explains how to find these blind spots in your self-awareness and what you can do about them, and we end our conversation by going through some actionable tips to become more charismatic, like how to keep a conversation going when you first meet someone, how to show interest in someone without looking creepy and the column mistakes men make with their first impressions. If you happen to blow your first impression, Ann shares how to recover. Great show with lots of actionable advice. After the show is over check out the show notes at aom.is/firstimpression.
Ann Demarais, welcome to the show.
Ann Demarais: Hi, Brett.
Brett McKay: Well, I’m glad to have you. I really enjoyed your book. It’s all about first impressions. You are a first impressions consultant.
Ann Demarais: I am.
Brett McKay: I’m curious. Yeah. That’s an interesting thing, a job title. You’re the first person first impression consultant I’ve met.
Ann Demarais: Ha. There’s more of us.
Brett McKay: There’s more of you?
Ann Demarais: But yes. Well, my colleagues.
Brett McKay: Right. I’m curious, what kind of clients do you have? Who is your clientele?
Ann Demarais: We work with a number of different clients. We work in the business world. We do Executive Coaching, we also coach people on making a positive impression at job interview. We also do simulated first dates or first social encounters and give people feedback about how they come across interpersonally. We also do seminars for special interest, like real estate agents or other groups etc. We’re based here in New York City and we also have an office in California.
Brett McKay: That’s fantastic. The book that I read is First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You and we’ll get into some of the details of that. Let’s start with this question. I think when people think about first impressions … I think lot of people roll their eyes and they’re like, “Ah.” It’s so superficial to think about your first impression. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and all that. What’s your response to those types of criticisms?
Ann Demarais: A lot of times on the discomfort of a first meeting we may not present ourselves authentically, we may be a little bit more shy or a little bit more talkative, we may not be the way we normally are, a way our best friends see us. Actually, we may send unintended negative messages. It’s just really helpful to know how you’re coming across in these situations so that you can be aware of it and you can tweak it. Just like putting on a clean shirt when you go to a job interview, it doesn’t mean you’re inauthentic, it just means you want to start out on a positive first step.
Brett McKay: Thinking about your first impression isn’t so much about changing how you are, but actually making sure that your authentic self is conveyed to others that you don’t know.
Ann Demarais: Yes. So, you’re coming across the way you want to be and that you’re not sending or leaking any unintended messages that may cause relationships to not go the way you want them to. You just have a little bit more control. You don’t have to walk around trying to make a great first impression on everyone that you meet or you pass by on the street, but if you want to you can know the tools to do it in a positive manner.
Brett McKay: You start off in the book digging into the psychology of these filtering errors that we all have, when we’re sizing up someone, that causes us to misjudge someone, and because of those filtering errors that’s why it’s so important to think about your first impression. What are some some of those errors that we have?
Ann Demarais: Yeah. First impression is like a filter, we all think we’re good judges of character. We take initial information in about someone and then we form an impression we expect that person to behave that way in the future. Then we sort of filter the way we see their behavior, so that we’re more likely to see things consistent with our initial filtering and filtered impression and may not pay attention to the other behaviors. Your initial behaviors will affect how people perceive you moving forward. It’ll bias them to seeing you in one way or the other.
Brett McKay: Right. One of those is the halo effect that you talk about.
Ann Demarais: Yeah. There’s some biases that we all have. Yes, a halo effect. If you see one positive thing in someone you may assume they have a cluster of other positive traits that you’ve not seen and may not be true. If someone’s upbeat you might think they’re also more successful and have other positive qualities that may not be there. Likewise, the horns effect, if you see one negative behavior you might assume they have a host of other negative behaviors that may not be true. We sort of spread, we see one initial thing and assume that there is a cluster of other traits along with it.
There’s also basically the primacy effect. We weigh initial information more heavily than later. If you see the first thing we know about someone we believe to be more true than the second things we say about them. People see a small percentage of you and they assume that it represents 100% of you. Then there’s one other kind of error, which is what’s called the fundamental error of attribution. It’s when we see someone behaving in a certain way do we assume it’s because of their personality or because of the situation. The biases when someone behaves say angrily, we assume they’re angry always and everywhere, that’s their personality, but when I’m angry it’s not because it’s my personality, I assume it’s a situation that something bad just happened to me, someone cut me off or was rude and it’s just a temporary, a situational thing, but I’m going to judge others in the other direction.
There’s all these unconscious biases about how people perceive you, that if you’re aware of them, you can be careful to put your positive traits first and that you will have a halo effect and the positive behaviors will be seen as the way you behave always.
Brett McKay: Right. Do you know if there’s any research on how quickly we make first impressions, is it like just in a few seconds or does it take a little bit?
Ann Demarais: There is no specific amount of time, that I’ve looked a lot into this research. People start forming an impression of you from initially when they meet you just on your body and the way you’re dressed and the way you carry yourself and then in the course of an initial conversation, that will be the unit of time. If we have a five minute conversation you’ll probably use that five minutes. You may have some positive or negative initial impressions based on something that I’ve, if I do a particular gaffe or I can keep the door open longer, but it’s not just three seconds, you have a little bit more than that.
Brett McKay: The thing I love most about this book, that really was really eye opening for me, the title of the book is What You Don’t Know About How Others See You. Are these traits or these things these expressions that we give off, that we think are positive or neutral, but are actually being interpreted as something negative by the other person, what are some of these common expressions or attributes that we might think, “Oh, yeah. I gave off a good first impression.” But someone else who was there would be like, “No, that guy’s kind of a jerk or kind of weird.”
Ann Demarais: Yeah. Sometimes, again, in the discomfort of meeting people we might be kind of shy, so we might say a lot less than we normally do and people might assume we’re aloof or arrogant or not interested. We’re really just shy and are a little bit … Take longer to warm up with new people. Or we might be overly talkative and feel like we have to really put a lot of stuff out there, we might come across as self-absorbed and uninterested in other people, when that may not be true, but it might just be like an awkward tension-filled kind of behavior that you project.
There’s many ways that we can … In our book, if you saw those, we have tables that talk about positive behaviors it can make, that have an intended positive impression and sometimes behaviors that we do that we think is making a certain impression, but actually can make an unintended negative impression. That’s kind of the really helpful way to kind of decompose the way you present yourself and be aware of, “Oh, maybe if I don’t smile and I hold back and sort of wait and see what the environment’s like before I enter in.” I might feel like I’m just being safe and easy, but I might be coming across as, like I said, aloof or unhappy and unwilling to provide entertainment to others.
Brett McKay: I know I’m guilty of that one. Sometimes I’ll just … I’m one of those like, I’ll wait for the conversation and not inject myself in there, because I’m afraid of coming off as too overbearing, but my wife sometimes says “You kind of seemed aloof.” I was like, “I don’t know. I didn’t feel aloof. I felt like I was in the conversation.”
Ann Demarais: We all have the power to create the mood around us. We can create a positive mood that’s going to make the whole interaction go in a more pleasant way, rather than just trying to say neutral or removed. We can say something positive, we can introduce ourselves, we can add some levity. There’s lots of ways we can create a positive mood around us more actively rather than passively.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. In any interaction that we have with someone there are four areas we can focus on to help bolster our first impression. What are those four ways?
Ann Demarais: The first one is, we focus on how we’re feeling. We’re in a new interaction. We’re probably thinking, “I’m comfortable or I’m nervous or I’m bored.” It’s just spontaneously comes to mind, we can’t help thinking about how we feel. Then we might shift, a second focus is, “Well, what do I think about this person? Do I like him or her? What’s my impression of them?” That sort of naturally kind of comes to mind. Then, if we’re in a new situation, we’re like on a job interview, we might start thinking, “What’s that person thinking about me?” We start to sort of self-monitor and think about that.
The one focus that we often don’t pay attention to is, “How is that person feeling about him or herself just by interacting with me?” It’s just something that you need some conscious effort to explore and that’s actually the secret to making a positive first impression. It’s really about satisfying other people’s needs, making an effort to make them feel happier and better just by interacting with you. Paradoxically, paying attention to satisfying other people’s needs is the shortest route to getting what you want out of social interactions and relationships.
Brett McKay: I think a lot of people naturally probably focus on, “What’s that other person thinking about me?” I think you talk about the spotlight effect, right?
Ann Demarais: Yes. That’s an easy thing to come to mind and we just don’t normally think, “How are they feeling? Are they feeling happy? Let me pay attention to them. Let me give them some attention.” It’s really about being socially generous. Trying to be … We might be generous with charity, but we don’t always think, “I can be generous to this person and I can try to make them feel better and feel happier.” It’s really an easy thing to do, but sometimes people are like, “Well, I don’t really know how to be socially generous. What am I supposed to do? How to make people feel better?”
Everyone has different interests, but there are some universal things that most people like. We call them social gifts and there’s four of them at least. One is being appreciated. Almost everyone likes to feel respected for who they are, for their talents or accomplishments and just accepted. That’s a really common thing that you can do, by just pointing out to someone that you really think that’s great, that they have launched a really successful podcast for example or some talent that they have.
Another social gift is just connection. People like to feel that they have something in common with someone. If you point out where you share an experience or a value or you like some of the same things, it helps people to feel comfortable around you and they will like you more because of this reciprocity of interests and values. The third one is, most people like a little elevation. Some people you meet always put you in a better mood and you just feel really just elevated from being around them. A lot of people is just kind of neutral and some people it’s kind of a downer, after talking to them you feel like in a worse mood. We don’t always think that we too have the power to affect the mood of others around us.
You can have a little levity, it doesn’t mean you have to be telling lots of jokes, but you can just be light-hearted, focus on the positive, talk about funny little things that happened to you. You can just improve people’s moods. The last one is what we call enlightenment. That’s just having interesting conversational topics, being able to share information with someone. Doesn’t have to be kind of heavy intellectual stuff, it could just be something that’s going on in the community or things that happened. So, just being able to have some topics to throw on the table. Some of these we can be out strengths in, we might be really good at gleaning, fascinating information and sharing it. We might not be focused on being appreciative or connecting.
Sometimes we have an imbalance. We focus on one of these gifts and unknowingly, here’s another like unintended consequence. We might be depriving people of this needs that they really want. Like they want to feel appreciated and connected and we’re focusing on trying to share information or be funny. It’s helpful to think about what your strengths and weaknesses are and having a balance of these four things is really charismatic. If you can probably think of people that are super easy to be around, they probably provide you with some of these gifts.
Brett McKay: Is it possible to be like overly socially generous … can there be too much of a good thing.
Ann Demarais: It’s usually the more the better. It’s possibly too much. Some people have an interactive style where they sort of do rapid fire questioning and it’s sort of like an interrogation. In some ways it’s like a little bit flattering to have all this interest but then you somehow end up being like on a more passive answering rather than connecting. You’re depriving them of the opportunity to sort of like share back or ask you. There is that sort of, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone just asks you a million questions and you feel a little bit on the sidelines of the interaction.
Brett McKay: You feel interrogated.
Ann Demarais: You feel interrogated, yeah. But back to these social gifts. There’s something called … Psychologists call it social exchange theory, which is … It sounds cold, but we evaluate others by the gifts that they bring us and the costs that they incur. If someone’s going to be easy to be around with and is going to provide us with these kinds of gifts, they’re more appealing, we’re more attracted to them. People that have more social costs, that look like they’ve got needs they’re looking to fulfill and they’re self-involved, are going to be less attractive and appealing. We unconsciously evaluate and are evaluated by these kinds of gifts that we give to people.
Brett McKay: Later on the book you talk about some of the fundamentals of a good first impression, and one of the first ones just appearing accessible. Someone could approach you. How do you appear more accessible?
Ann Demarais: That’s the very first of a first impression, is how you kind of make yourself seem comfortable and approachable. There’s a couple of elements. One, really, is mood, like I talked about. If you project a positive mood versus a dour kind of expression you’re going to be much more appealing and much more attractive. You’re walking into a party where you don’t know anyone, if you see someone that has a more elevated mood, they’re smiling, they’re going to be easier to approach. Our body language, whether we’re making eye contact, we have an open posture, those are things that make people more approachable and more accessible.
Then, as I was mentioning before, being proactive. If someone comes up and introduces themselves it’s immediately, you assume that they’re more confident and they’re certainly making you more comfortable and they’re putting themselves out there so that you can have a more quick connection. That’s really like sort of your welcome mat, your body language and your mood.
Brett McKay: Speaking of body language and mood, are there behaviors that … Going back to, people see us differently than the way we think we’re projecting, are there behaviors that we think are neutral when it comes through approachability, that actually make us look closed off and defensive?
Ann Demarais: Yeah. That’s like I was saying earlier, just not smiling. Sometimes we feel like a smile seems forced and that it seems unnatural, but actually, it’s one of the few things that I really recommend people do even if they don’t naturally smile. It just really is more of a welcome mat. Our facial expression has like lightning speed impact on others, and actually, frowning is something that we scan the world, it’s like a threat and we register it very quickly. If you don’t have a positive or if you have the negative facial expression, it’ll be more readily recognized and you will be less approachable and people be less comfortable around you.
That’s the one welcome mat that I really recommend, that you even put on if it feels uncomfortable, but to do it anyway, just to smile when you meet someone for the first time. It tells them that you’re happy to be in their presence, that you’re a positive person, even if you are just feeling kind of neutral. It’s kind of like a clean shirt.
Brett McKay: Right, right. Going back to this idea of being proactive, introducing yourself, is there a time when maybe you should not be proactive because being that upfront might turn people off? How do you figure out what’s the best approach in a certain situation?
Ann Demarais: Sure. It’s going to depend. If you walk into a party and people that know each other engage in intense conversation, you don’t necessarily want to burst in and introduce yourself. There are certainly situations where, if it’s a small group, there’s another person standing alone, it’s very easy to introduce yourself. If you’re at a business conference you can go and introduce yourself to other colleagues. It’s very simple and people usually welcome it.
Brett McKay: I feel like most people, you think they’re not going to welcome it, but most people like want you to do, they’re like actually pretty excited that someone reached out to them.
Ann Demarais: Yeah. You’ve taken the burden off of them. You’ve made it easier for them to connect.
Brett McKay: Let’s say you’ve made that introduction and you’ve got that little bit of conversation going, how do you keep that conversation going? You leave a good first impression. As you said earlier, first impression isn’t made in three seconds, it might be within the five minute conversation you have. So, what’s going on?
Ann Demarais: Maybe I can speak to what we call these fundamentals. So, there it’s like elements that make a positive impression. The first one we just talked about was being accessible. The next really important one to do is just to show interest, as long as you’re not interrogating, and that can be done by asking open ended versus close ended questions. Not like, “Where do you live?” But, “What do you like about where you live and what do you like to do for fun?” Things that can open up and have people share their passions.
Really importantly, it’s helpful not to keep segueing back to yourself. If someone says, “I just came back from a trip to Paris.” And then I say, “I went there too last year and here’s a 10 minute explanation of my story.” Then I’ve deprived that person of sharing and connecting. So, showing interest is really one of the fundamentals. It’s easy, especially if you’re someone that’s not as comfortable in new situations and don’t know a lot of topics, asking the other person about him or herself and following up is a great way, because interest begets attraction really.
Then the topics, like you said, what do we talk about? We’re mutual blank slates. I don’t know you at all, so what would I talk about? My model airplane hobby or my position on gun control or where do you start. There are some kind of basic steps that most people do, that make you more comfortable to be around. Just the first one is being like in the moment, talk about the weather or the music in the space or the speaker we just saw or that we both know the host. That just makes people seem safe and comfortable and we’re sharing the same space, we’re in the moment.
Then you can sort of warm up and talk about current events or facts or things, and once you have more of a foundation you can move into talking more about opinions and values and things that you don’t want to dive into quite as quickly until you’ve established more of a foundational rapport.
Brett McKay: I love the idea of making … Whenever you are asking questions about somebody and they’re giving answer, making sure not to bring the conversation back to you. We wrote an article about conversational narcissism a long time ago.
Ann Demarais: Oh, yeah?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Ann Demarais: Yes.
Brett McKay: It’s funny, ever since I wrote that article and I’m talking, taking part in conversation, I’ll see people doing it or I’ll catch myself doing, because it’s so easy to fall into because like you have this very information, you know about it, so you want to share it, but you got to fight that urge.
Ann Demarais: We all have the stuff on top of mind and it just … Yeah, it’s the easiest things to do, is just to narrate our thoughts, that’s the least effort. Conversational narcissists tend to brag, talk about themselves a lot, glaze over when others are speaking, constantly segue back to themselves. It’s really unappealing and, again, it’s something that we’re not aware of doing. We’ve probably all done it at least sometimes, when we’re uncomfortable or something’s super present in our minds. It’s just really important to check yourself, especially when you’re in a new meeting, you want to speak shorter and then pass the ball.
When you’re with friends and family you can say, “Hey, something major happened today. I want to tell you this long story.” And that’s a great forum for telling your long stories, but in a new situation you want to really pass the ball back because otherwise you’ll be an unappealing narcissist in a conversation.
Brett McKay: Got to show interest. I love how you really hit on the point that starting the conversation, what you talk about, is you talk about really mundane things and a lot of people are like, “Oh, it’s so … I hate those like superficial conversations.” If you’re meeting someone new like you don’t want to delve right into, like, “So, tell me your opinion on whatever hot button topic or what’s the meaning of life.” You had to sort of have on-ramp to get to that point.
Ann Demarais: Yes, exactly. I like that metaphor. It’s an on-ramp. So, you warm up and then, just like there is general things to avoid, like religion and politics, some things that are too heavy you might want to avoid or I once had a client that said … He just got this medical news that was really great, he just found out he was cured of something and so it’s very exciting to him and it was great, but then it was … Put the other person, put me in a position where I couldn’t speak about a movie I saw last night without being kind of like rude. In some ways you want to hold back even positive, heavy personal information with a new person.
Brett McKay: That example is with like he was preparing for a date. He wanted …
Ann Demarais: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Yeah. That’s probably not something you want to bring up on a first date.
Ann Demarais: Yes. Even though it’s really exciting. You share it with other people, that come up in a later interaction. The banalities, the details of everyday life or what’s called negative egocentrism, the complaining about one’s problems, are unappealing. Also, you have to be careful about the way you present things. Avoiding this lecturing, like telling people a long exposé on something you know about, telling long stories about people that the person doesn’t know. Sometimes you will fall into sort of what we call sermonizing, trying to convince you of their way of thinking. It’s really about talking with and not at, and making sure that you’re not positioning the other person as audience and that you’re having a kind of parody and give and take. There’s like a lot of topics you can cover if you cover them in a positive, back and forth kind of way.
Brett McKay: Nice. To start with weather, maybe move to sports then move on to something else.
Ann Demarais: Yeah. Some ways of little fishing, you just try to throw out a few things, then sometimes you can find common interest or say, “Brett, so what do you like to do on the weekends?” And I can say, “Wow, I love to do that too. I’m really into some aspects of whatever you like and then we can explore that.”
Brett McKay: Right. The other thing, too, is sort of about using your environment. Like I’m at a wedding and I’m at a party table and I don’t know anyone, I’ll ask like, “Well, how do you know the bride or the groom?” That can go-
Ann Demarais: That’s a nice on-ramp, right?
Brett McKay: Right. Lots of great conversation can go from there.
Ann Demarais: Right. Where do you know them and so that’s just that being in the moment, we’re in this beautiful space, we know these same people together and then you move into the next level and then you find more connections.
Brett McKay: That’s great. Another element you talk about in a Good First Impression is self-disclosure.
Ann Demarais: Yes. That’s kind of your emotional self-presentation and you can accelerate or put the brakes on a relationship by how much you disclose about yourself. Sharing something that people wouldn’t know about you unless you told them. It’s really a way when you share something like a vulnerability or something about yourself, it really can make people feel more endeared to you and it’s a compliment to have something shared with you, that means, “I like you and I trust you.”
Again, we start with the basics, that’s another on-ramp. It’s sort of like, I share a little bit, you share a little bit. It’s like a strip poker, I take off a sock, someone takes off a sock. You don’t want to go right to like the deepest, darkest things right away. You want to ease in and feel out the other person’s comfort with disclosing. So, you should match. If the person doesn’t seem like they want to go there, then you can be sensitive to that and not share too much more of your personal information. But the things that are really helpful, really appealing, is your passions, what you really feel happy about, it brings out a spark in you.
Again, things that are a little bit vulnerable. Everyone has vulnerabilities, so if there’s some things that you’re comfortable sharing, that’s great, it makes people feel back to that connectedness, because we all have them.
Brett McKay: But you don’t want go into too much information territory where you’re like the guy, “I just got cured of this-
Ann Demarais: You want to share little by little on the first meeting. Just say, “What a fool. I screwed up on this today or something.” Just little mistakes or personal vulnerabilities or …
Brett McKay: Yeah. I’m curious. Are there any other elements of a good first impression that people, I don’t know, either gloss over or don’t even think about. We talked about being accessible and sort of showing interest and self-disclosure. Are there any other ones you think are really important?
Ann Demarais: Another one that’s actually people really don’t pay attention to, is this dynamics that I was referring to a little bit, kind of like the give and take of the conversation. If you’re watching people speak in a different language, a language you don’t know, you can sort of get a whole sense of the vibe without even knowing the content. It’s really about like how much in quantity that you share, do you dominate or not share enough. That’s really helpful to be aware. Usually it’s good to be sort of complimentary in that regard.
If someone’s really shy and looks like they don’t feel comfortable you can come and maybe speak a little bit more to make them feel comfortable. If someone’s really likes to talk a lot and you do two, again, socially generous, let them do a lot of the talking, they’ll feel good. In the first meeting let them have the quantity that they feel comfortable with and you should adapt yourself to them. Pace matters too. There’s no speed of speech that’s universally appealing. We like others that speak at the same pace as us. So, fast talkers like fast talkers and slow talkers like slow talkers and, again, have like that halo effect on them.
If you talk faster than other people then you introduce anxiety. Have you ever been around someone that’s talking really fast, you feel this like ah, like anxiety. If you’re speaking faster than other people you might want to slow down and if you speak slowly and people try to finish your sentences you might want to pay attention to that and maybe not choose your words quite so carefully and speak a little faster. That can have a pretty strong impact on how people perceive you.
Then again, this turn taking and yielding and interrupting. If you might feel like you are looking engaged if you keep interrupting, but you might be sending the unintended message that whatever you have to say is so much more interesting and important than what I have to say. So, it’s really good form in a first meeting and in general, to yield to interruptions.
Brett McKay: In your work with your clients. have you noticed that men make some common mistakes with their first impression that you don’t see women make?
Ann Demarais: Yes. A lot of this stuff is gender neutral, but there are some behaviors that are more common in men. Back to what I was talking about like lecturing and storytelling, men tend to do what we call male pattern lecturing, especially on dates. They might know some topic or read some article and they like to talk at length about it and in feedback they say, “It makes me feel smart and I feel like I’m sharing this information and this is going to be … Make me seem really appealing.” Back to that balance, it might be interesting but the poor date seems like an audience member who doesn’t have a chance to feel any appreciation or connectedness, so they feel deprived. There’s a cost by just listening to this lecture.
Women, by the way, tend to lean more towards that story telling error of just going into a lot of details about people or friends with problems etc that the other person doesn’t know or particularly care about. Men often also like to sort of show off a little. They look for respect and women look for rapport. Sometimes they will try to insert brags. There’s even something that we call the faux segue.
I had a client that asked me if I had pets and I had canaries and I said, “Yes.” And then he quickly segued and said, “I have fish and I have a fish tank here in the city and then one in my house out in South Hampton.” He told me later that he specifically asked people about pets so he can insert that he has a house in this prestigious beach community, so that he can get that brag in, in a sly manner. Men like to insert kind of these brags. They want to have respect. They believe that’s making them come off more positively, when a lot of times it doesn’t have the intended impact.
Brett McKay: That’s good to know. That’s good to know. It’s funny how you-
Ann Demarais: Sometimes people call it mansplaining too.
Brett McKay: I’ve heard that phrase. I’m curious, with this whole first impression rubric you’ve developed, when you are in say like a first date or a job interview, does your approach to your first impression change or do you just use fall upon the fundamentals, no matter the situation?
Ann Demarais: Well, situation is going to matter, but here’s the thing. When you’re on a job interview showing a lot of interest in the interviewer is really a good thing. It demonstrates that you’ve got this interpersonal style that’s other oriented, that’s caring, rather than saying, “I’m an other oriented person.” If you demonstrate it, so you ask the interviewer, “How long have you been at the company and what do you like about it?” And engage them in sort of a social conversation, you’ll make a better impression because you’re going to give some of those gifts, you are going to be appreciative and connecting and a person is going to be unconsciously biased in a positive way towards you.
A lot of people on job interviews kind of neglect to do that, but naturally, once you get into the interview it’s appropriate for you to respond to the questions, again, being hopefully brief and direct and succinct, but it wouldn’t be the same as a … Obviously, as a date.
Brett McKay: I think I’ve always … I picked up early on when I was doing job interviews, when I was in law school, that … And someone told me this. They’re basically trying to figure out if they’re going to enjoy working with you. They’ve seen your resume, they know you have the credentials, the interview is just “Am I going to get along with this person? Am I going to enjoy being at work with this person?”
Ann Demarais: Exactly. It’s not the most accurate way to assess job performance, but everyone wants to know that the person’s going to be fun and likable, it’s human need. We want to be around someone that gives us these social gifts, makes us feel happy. You’re not going to be a downer in the next office.
Brett McKay: Debbie Downer. Let’s see you have a bad first impression, is it possible to recover from one?
Ann Demarais: Yes. It is definitely possible, but remember, you’re going to be swimming against the tide because they’ve already made an impression of you and they’re expecting you to behave in that negative way, but you can actually overcome that. Sometimes I even recommend to people, if they know that they’re shy or act differently in new situations, just give a heads up and say, “Hey, I look forward to meeting you. Just want to let you know sometimes I’m a little quiet on first meetings.” If that’s appropriate that’s a helpful thing to do just in advance to prevent it, but after it happens, so you do something, you make some gaffe, like you maybe talk nonstop and alienated the person. You can sort of do like a post impression jumpstart.
If it’s with someone that you’re going to interact with again, a new colleague, you can send a quick note saying, “Hey, it was really great meeting you. Sorry I was like blabbing on, it’s not normally my style. I look forward to learning more about you and etc.” Leave in a little email or text so that they don’t have to respond immediately. It’s a nice way of just sort of being self-aware and modest and a little bit generous.
Obviously, if you’re at a dinner party and it’s a stranger it would be inappropriate to chase them down and do that, but if it’s with someone that you would expect to interact with again, a neighbor, a colleague. Also, just over time, if you’re uncomfortable doing that, if over time, if you … The next time you see them you display your positive qualities, eventually the scales will tip and they’ll see the true you. You could also just be a little bit more directive in that, if you know that the person’s likes certain things, they like elevation or they like having intellectual discussions, you could adapt yourself to like be more … Giving the gifts that that person likes and that can accelerate your recovery.
You can definitely do it. We’ve probably all had the experience where we’ve misjudged someone, where we didn’t take an immediate liking to them, but then eventually grew to like them over time. We’ve all experienced that, I think, but sometimes … If someone makes a poor impression, sometimes you can think, “Well, maybe that person was a little uncomfortable and maybe I should cut them some slack and maybe I should see that if they were talking a lot, that maybe they were just nervous or they were trying to be positive and upbeat and it was an unintended message.”
Brett McKay: Yeah. I think the idea of that time can sort of heal your bad first impression wound is powerful because I’ve had that happen with someone I met and I was like, “Ah, I don’t like to … ” Because of school or work I had to interact with them on a regular basis, I get more familiar with them and then eventually I’m like, “Hey, this person’s great. I don’t know why I even thought that in the first place.”
Ann Demarais: Yeah. We should be aware … It’s helpful. This whole framework also helps us to be aware of the way we judge others and be more compassionate and generous to other people, to realize they may have all kinds of wonderful positive qualities we haven’t yet seen.
Brett McKay: I love that. Ann, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Ann Demarais: We have a website, firstimpressionsconsulting.com. We also have this book that you mentioned, it’s called First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You by Random House and it’s in 24 languages.
Brett McKay: Wow. You have an international audience.
Ann Demarais: We’re solving first impressions worldwide.
Brett McKay: That’s amazing. Does it change for culture? This kind of brings of it, the way you coach-
Ann Demarais: There are cultural differences, yes. We try to make that very clear that what’s going to be appropriate in America is different than in Japan. There are a lot of subtle differences, but there’s a lot of human nature that’s really a core and these kinds of social gifts are really going to be cross-cultural. The idea of giving to others first in order to get what you want in a relationship is pretty much culture-free phenomenon.
Brett McKay: Right, universal. Well, Ann Demarais, thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Ann Demarais: All right. Lovely. Thank you so much for inviting me, Brett.
Brett McKay: Thank you. My guests, that was Ann Demarais. She is the author of the book First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You. It’s available on Amazon.com. You can also find out more information about Ann’s work at firstimpressionsconsulting.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/firstimpressions where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
That wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoyed this show, you’ve got something of it, I’d appreciate if you take a minute or two to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, that helps us out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: December 6, 2017