Why You Made A Lousy Impression - And How To Make Sure It Doesnt Happen Again
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Maybe it was a job interview. Or an
important client meeting. Or even a sales call.
Whatever it was, you were dressed for
success, rehearsed and ready to wow them. So what went wrong?
Chances are you got off to a bad
start - and maybe that less-than-positive impression began before you
said a word.
Here are three small mistakes that
might have had big (and negative) consequences:
1) You checked for text
You may be familiar with research
from Harvard and Columbia Business Schools about the effects of
expansive physical poses -- feet wide apart, body erect, hands on hips
(think “Superman” or “Wonder Woman”). Studies show that holding this
kind of “power pose” for just two minutes raises testosterone levels
(the hormone linked to power and self-confidence) and lowers the level
of cortisol, a stress hormone.
But did you know that this hormonal
effect is actually reversed when you tuck your chin in, round your
shoulders and contract yourself physically? In that posture, you lower
your testosterone level – and its corresponding feelings of confidence
– while increasing cortisol.
So, instead of hunching over your
smart phone (reading email or texting in the classic “iHunch” position)
try leaving your phone in your purse or briefcase while you wait in the
lobby for an upcoming meeting. Instead, take out a newspaper, and read
it sitting up straight with your feet firmly on the floor, and your
arms spread wide to hold the paper open. By putting your body into this
expansive posture, you will not only feel more confident and certain
when the meeting starts, you will also be perceived that way.
2) You entered the meeting
room and adjusted your attitude
In business interviews, first
impressions are crucial. Once someone mentally labels you as “likeable”
or “untrustworthy, ”powerful” or “ineffectual,” everything else you do
will be viewed through that filter. If someone likes you, she’ll look
for the best in you. If she mistrusts you, she’ll suspect devious
motives in all your actions.
A study at the University of
Glasgow’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging that discovered it takes
the brain just 200 milliseconds to gather most of the information it
needs from a facial expression to determine a person's emotional state.
That’s why you can’t wait until you’re in the meeting room to “warm
up.” You’ve got to walk in, already expressing the emotions you want to
One way to do that, is to prime your
brain - or in the Method Actors' term, access your "emotional memory"
to display a "believable truth." Of course you will have different
goals than an actor in a play, but the sense of conviction and
authenticity you want to project is fundamentally the same. For
example, if you want to display confidence and positive energy, here's
how you would go about it:<!--[endif]-->
- Think of an occasion where you
were confident and successful. This doesn’t have to be taken from your
professional life, although I do encourage clients to keep a "success
log" so that they can easily find such an event. What’s important is
identifying the right emotion.
- Picture that past success clearly
in your mind. Recall the feeling of certainty, of confidence, of
genuine pride, and remember or imagine how you looked and sounded as
you embodied that emotional state.
- Then, picture yourself at the
upcoming meeting with the same sense of confidence and joyful pride of
accomplishment. The more you repeat this mental rehearsal – seeing
yourself at the upcoming meeting, self-assured and upbeat, the more you
increase your ability to automatically produce the facial expressions
and body language that is triggered by that authentic, positive
3) You shook hands
Since touch is the most powerful and
primitive nonverbal cue, but it’s not enough to shake hands. It’s worth
devoting time to cultivate a great handshake! The right handshake can
give you instant credibility and the wrong one can cost you the job or
the contract. So, no “dead fish” or “bone-crusher” grips, please. The
first makes you appear to be a wimp and the second signals that you are
Handshake behavior has cultural
variations, but to ace the ideal handshake in North America, follow
- Make sure your right hand is free
to shake hands. Always shift any briefcases, papers, or cell phones to
your left hand before you begin the greeting so your handshaking hand
is ready for action.
- Offer your hand with your palm
facing sideways. When a person offers his hand with the palm faced
upwards, it is considered to be a submissive gesture. Conversely, when
someone offers his hand with the palm faced downwards (or twists his
hand downward during the handshake) it sends a message of superiority.
But people who offer a sideways hand to shake send a message of
equality and confidence.
- Don’t be over-powering, but do
shake hands firmly.
- Look directly into the other
person’s eyes. (A tip is to look at their eyes long enough to know what
color they are.)
- Keep your body squared off to the
other person – facing him or her fully.
- Make sure you have palm-to-palm
contact and that the web of you hand touches the web of the other
person’s. Research indicates that if people don't get this full palm
contact, they wonder what the other person is hiding.
- Start talking before you let go:
"It's a pleasure to meet you.”
- Don't look down when you step
back. That is a submission signal.
By the way: While a great handshake
is important for all professionals, it is especially key for women –
whose confidence is evaluated by the quality of their handshake even
more than it is with their male counterparts.
Drop these three small mistakes and
let your body, brain, and touch help you make the most positive
About the Author
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.
Keynote speaker, leadership presence coach and media expert on body
language in the workplace.
Leadership contributor for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
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