Health

You make a better first impression than you realize

Article overview:

  • People underestimate how well others like them.
  • Those who are shy rate themselves the lowest.
  • Simple tricks can help improve your "first impression".

Research states most underestimate their first impression

Even the most confident of us occasionally feel uncomfortable in social situations, especially when meeting people for the first time or trying to make a good impression on Zoom. If you sometimes move away from these encounters and feel that you are not your usual charming self and the other person may not have liked you very much, you are hardly alone. However, new research suggests that you may be a little too tough on yourself because you probably made a better impression than you think.

The study, conducted at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, found that people usually underestimate how well someone else likes them after talking to them. These results are based on several experiments that involved either short-term conversations between people who were first introduced or long-term when the residents of the dormitory met during their freshman year of study.

In an experiment, the subjects were placed in situations where they got to know someone and had a conversation. They were then asked to rate how good they were at the conversation and assign a rating to the person they spoke to. In some versions of the study the conversations were shorter and in others longer, sometimes providing topics for discussion but not in other cases. However, in all of these different cases, participants remained constant and gave the person they were speaking to a higher rating for sympathy than they did themselves.

Shy people rate themselves poorly in social situations

Unsurprisingly, those volunteers with shy personality types were most likely to rate themselves poorly compared to their interviewer. However, it wasn't just the shy volunteers who made themselves feel this way, but it was a phenomenon that occurred to all personalities – even the most sociable. Hence, it seems we are all likely to be guilty of judging ourselves more strictly than others when it comes to conversational skills, at least sometimes.

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Why do we tend to criticize ourselves so much more than those we speak to? Part of the problem is that most of us are so focused on what we are saying or about to say next that we cannot clearly see how the other person is reacting. In addition, we have a very human way of mentally reproducing a conversation when it is over. This generally leads to us analyzing all the missteps we have made while speaking and internally criticizing every little detail. We seldom take the side of another conversation apart to that extent.

All of these can lead to social trouble if you take it too far. If you regularly feel that you like the people you talk to more than you do, you can withdraw from interactions, narrow your social circle, and develop anxiety when even the simplest conversations arise. The good news is that being aware of how the knowledge we gained from the results of this study can help us realize that we are all in the same situation and the chances are that others will like you more, than you thought.

How to improve your first impression or your first meeting

There are also many ways to combat your fear of failing that first meeting. Prepare a little in advance so you have some ideas for topics to talk about and can avoid that awkward silence. If you feel nervous, relax with a few minutes of deep breathing or meditating before a new social encounter. Don't be afraid to smile either, as people generally respond well to people who are in a good mood, and studies have even shown that happiness is contagious. With zoom, good lighting and a clear connection can help.

Another strategy is to focus fully on the other person – everyone loves to talk to a good listener who can really hear what they're saying and ask relevant questions from time to time. A 2012 study at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts found that brain scans confirm how much people love to talk about themselves. So let the other person take the lead, and you're almost guaranteed to make a great first impression. And make extra effort to hear the other person's name clearly and to block it when introducing it. Then use their name when you speak to them. As Dale Carnegie said, "a person's name is the cutest sound," and they appreciate people who use it when speaking to them.

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