Body language hacks to nail that first impression

March 08, 2017

Body language hacks to nail that first impression

It’s ironic how the ultimate success of a relationship – be it professional or personal – can be determined by what happens within the first few moments of meeting. In fact, a 2006 study by Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov revealed that it only takes a mere tenth of a second for a person to gauge whether someone is trustworthy, competent, or attractive.

From the way you enter a room, to unconscious gestures, non-verbal communication can account for as much as 50-90% of the total interaction. In other words – how you say things can matter as much as (or more than!) what you say.

So, make those milliseconds count. It could mean getting the job, landing that promotion, or winning over a room of colleagues with a brilliant presentation.  If that seems like a tall order, worry not. Here are three fail-proof tips on creating a strong and lasting first impression no matter what the situation.

1. Best face forward

We’re hard-wired to subconsciously read into faces. It’s an evolutionary survival technique that allowed earlier humans to quickly assess if someone was a potential friend or foe. A few centuries later, the same principle applies – facial expressions convey your level of engagement with the person you are talking to.

Aim to begin your encounter with a genuine smile. Yes, like what you just tried. This associates your personal brand with positivity, and puts others around you at ease. “Smiles encourage collaboration and productivity in work”, says Danielle Shore, a behavioral psychologist at Bangor University. “If more genuine smiles are seen in a meeting, that meeting is likely to achieve its aims more quickly and with fewer difficulties." Just be aware of how much you flash that grin – too little and you appear standoffish; too much reads insincere and creepy.

As you ease into conversation, maintain eye contact. We know, that part can be hard sometimes...Looking someone straight in the eye conveys confidence. It also shows that you are fully engaged in the person and what they’re saying. If the eyes are indeed ‘windows to the soul’, use yours as a window of opportunity to create a solid first impression.

2. Nix the nervous tics

Most of us will have subconscious gestures we make when agitated. Think touching your face, clicking your pen, or picking your nails. They’re distracting, and are a dead giveaway that you’re not in control. Think about how you react in stressful situations – what mannerisms do you have? They need to go.

This may seem harder than it sounds – believe us, old habits do die hard. Here’s a tip: substitute them for something less awkward. Say you’re a chronic abuser of the tucking-hair-behind-the-ear habit. Resolve to keep your hands clasped and relaxed on the table, or casually hold a notebook and pen. Not only does this keep your fingers from wandering, it also gives you the option to use expressive hand gestures or jot notes.  

3. Power Posing

Remember mom nagging you to stand up straight? Turns out she was onto something. Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy shares in a 2012 TED Talk [hyperlink to video] how ‘power posing’, or assuming specific body language, can elevate confidence. "When our body language is confident and open,” shares Cuddy, “other people respond in kind, unconsciously reinforcing not only their perception of us but also our perception of ourselves."

Striking a pose? Seems easy enough. Try these out next time you’re in need of a confidence boost.

  • The Wonder Woman: Channel your inner superhero during a nerve-wracking presentation. Puff your chest, place your hands on your hips, and stand with feet apart. Establish eye contact and speak with your chin up. Here’s our pro tip – slick on a bold lip color to draw attention to your face. We like The Alpha by Unapology, a look-at-me red matte stain that will stay put through that meeting and the celebratory drink afterwards.
  • The CEO: Imagine yourself at the head of boardroom table. While sitting, rest your hands behind your head, knees held comfortably apart, and recline just a little. Do this when in a group discussion and you want to convey authority. Complement the power pose with your best power suit, of course. Something that makes you feel comfortable, in control, and fearless.
  • The Obama: Use this to muster some decision-making spunk. Clasp hands behind your head, lean back, and put your feet up – ankles crossed – on your table. Cuddy suggests assuming this power pose can empower you to take more potentially profitable risks. When doing this pose, don’t underestimate the power of a great pair of shoes. They’re going to be on display, so whether flats or heels, pumps or sandals, make sure your shoes are in tip-top shape.  

Projecting confidence in conversations and meetings won’t always come naturally. Even the most seasoned leaders will have moments of self-doubt. But allowing yourself to be comfortable with the feeling of being confident, assertive, and likable is the first step towards actually being perceived that way by those around you. In other words Lady, before anyone can believe in you, you need to believe in yourself.


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