You’ve heard it before: Those first few seconds of interaction with someone new are crucial. Scientists have been very clear about how snappy we are when it comes to judgments — and that these appraisals are shown to be accurate. We trust these impressions, and with good reason.
So exactly how can you intrigue and impress when you meet someone new? Let the experts — some of them scientists — tell you:
1. Maintain eye contact with someone to show interest. If you wish to show particular interest in another person, hold eye contact a beat or two longer than you would with anyone else. Nicolas Boothman, author of How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less, explains: “Sexy people slow down. They move at a different pace, giving others the opportunity to respond to them. When you ‘linger longer’ with your eyes, you show interest.” To create an opportunity to meet an attractive stranger, engage in the “promise withdraw.” Make eye contact, look away and then look back. You’ll make the object of your attention more eager to meet you.
2. Open up your posture to appear more welcoming when you flirt. Our body language plays a big role in how others see us, especially in the first few seconds before much has been said. The key to an inviting posture is simple: Expose your heart. This means your arms are uncrossed and your shoulders are relaxed or back; crossing your arms in front of your chest is a nonverbal cue for others to back off, so if you’re doing it because you’re cold, say so.
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3. A genuinely positive attitude makes all the difference. While it’s true that others cannot read your mind, they can read your attitude. If your internal monologue is negative, this bad energy will manifest itself in ways you can’t really control… even if you try. Alexander Todorov, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Princeton University, points out that “fake smiles are never a good idea. People are very good at differentiating genuine from fake smiles.” So before you head into a new social situation, get yourself into a good mood — it will help put a genuine smile on your face later on. It may be something as simple as playing upbeat music or telling yourself you’re going to have a fun time.
4. Focus more, fidget less. In general, people who appear calm, cool and collected are more likely to make a favorable impression on others. “All self-manipulative movements create the impression of untrustworthiness,” explains Paul Ekman, Ph.D., author of Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life and professor of psychology at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco. In other words, avoid fidgeting and averting your eyes. Dr. Ekman continues, “try to identify particular mannerisms you might do, [such as] twisting your hair, picking at your nails, etc. You can learn to stop doing those things.”
5. Recover from any initial awkwardness by staying warm and engaged in future interactions. Despite our good intentions, we all make mistakes sometimes. If you know you’ve made a bad first impression, you can undo the damage. Bernadette Park, professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, says that it is “possible to recover, but it takes a relatively large amount of ‘different’ data.” Dr. Todorov agrees: “If people have occasions to interact again and behave in ways that disconfirm the impression,” a reversal of opinion can happen. Show self-awareness about what you did wrong during your first meeting with the other person. For example: If you were curt or distracted, explain why and make an extra effort to be warm and engaged in subsequent interactions. You just may be able to ensure that your second or third impression trumps that not-so-hot first one!