What happens when you try and convince the person that you just met that oboe solos really are cool; or you accidentally insult a prospective employer; or even worse, that pesky Backstreet Boys infatuation (the one you thought you buried with your braces) comes out at the wrong time? These are just a few of the ways a bad first impression can be made. If you are somewhat perceptive to what other people are thinking about you, then the thought that is probably floating—or incessantly bashing—the insides of your brain is: can I get a do-over? No. But there is a chance, with a little hard work, that you can make the wrong impression go right.
USE PERSISTENCE TO MAKE A GOOD SECOND IMPRESSION
Dr. Oscar Ybarra, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, says, "A major goal facing social perceivers is to determine what others are like, that is, to uncover their dispositional characteristics." In other words, people want to categorize. This is why first impressions are so important: they give a glimpse into future, predictable patterns. Once these predictable patterns are formed in the perceiver’s mind, then all of your future actions are then filtered through a biased lens. This confirms the perceiver’s initial judgment of you and strengthens the impression. The goal then, if your first impression wasn't so hot, is to break the mold of the predictable pattern that has been established. Identify where things went wrong and establish a new pattern.
APOLOGIZE FOR FIRST IMPRESSION MISHAPS
Nothing works as well as a sincere apology. Renée Evenson, in her article "Making a Great First Impression" writes, "No one is going to hold it against you when you take responsibility for your actions." When you are able to recognize the mistake you have made and are able to own up to it, two things happen. First, it shows that you are not completely oblivious, rude, or crazy. Second, it makes the recovery of your bad impression much shorter.
ESTABLISH GOOD IMPRESSIONS WITH MUTUAL CONTACTS
Build up your reserve of people with whom you have already made good impressions. You may have stumbled on this particular occasion, but having people to vouch for you is a good way to stop the bleeding. Dr. Ybarra states, "After people have formed first impressions, they may have the opportunity to modify their evaluative impressions of others...[by] having a conversation about them with a friend, for example." Don't burn all your bridges.
ESTABLISH OTHER GOOD IMPRESSIONS
Making a bad impression in one area shouldn't prevent making good impressions in other areas. In future meetings, take the opportunity to highlight some of your other positive traits in addition to repairing the one that was damaged. If the first impression you gave was introverted, then use the next opportunity to showcase your compassion. If you were inattentive, then be agreeable at the next meeting. This is not an opportunity to boast, but a chance to reveal other good things about you.
First impressions gone wrong can be bad, but they don’t have to be a death knell. After all, they only mark the beginning of a relationship. It is up to you to make sure they don’t determine the end.