Like it or not, you are being judged by how you look, how you dress, and how you carry yourself — and, if you’re lucky, how you do your job.
Whether you are going on a first date or trying your luck at a job interview, we’re told over and over again that first impressions can make or break how we’re perceived. Studies have even pointed out that first impressions are just as irreversible as they are instant.
There is no second chance to make a first impression.
A bad first impression can tarnish your image. Prospective employers and clients may lose confidence in you, and alternatively it can even cost you business.
In the land of etiquette, the first impression is a major topic that is emphasised by etiquette practitioners. They believe that it does not only put you in charge of the way you present yourself to the world, but also determines the way others think about you, respond to you, and interact with you.
The first impressions you display to a customer will set the tone for your business relationship. Excellent impressions will imply that you are professional and prepared.
A good friend of mine shared on how he started to value the ethics of professional appearance and how the subject is linked with first impressions. Edward narrated how guests treated him and his father when they arrived at a local hotel a day before the start of an international conference.
Their flight delayed and they did not make it in time for the conference briefing that took place on that day, but fortunately, they were in time for dinner.
Upon arrival at the hotel, the pair didn’t take time to refresh and change their travelling attires, they just threw their bags and quickly rushed downstairs where the rest of the delegates were networking and waiting for diner to be served.
My friend Edward has always been that ‘fashion guru’ that finds it awkward to completely dress and walk out of the house without a blazer or jacket. His father was putting on a golf T-shirt and khaki pants
Edward told me that everyone who approached the duo to have a chat extended their hands to him and not his father. Surprisingly, Edwards’s father was the key note speaker the following morning. He was kicking off the conference but during the networking period, delegates quickly judged him based on his appearance.
Edward appeared to be more important because he was putting on a blazer, an open neck shirt and a clean ironed pair of trousers. Remember, you are judged on how you look, dress and carry yourself.
Appropriate dressing shows that you respect your business and your customers. If you look successful and confident then others will have more confidence in you as well. Showing up to a meeting poorly dressed shows that you do not care about the meeting. When you are dressed properly, there is nothing to disrupt others from your message.
Your body is one of the first features a person will notice when meeting you. If you slouch or close your body, you will send signals that you are unapproachable and not interested in the person. Standing straight with your shoulders back, arms at your side and head up indicates that you are interested, enthusiastic and ready to do business. When listening to someone, face the other person with your shoulder squared to theirs. Maintain a sincere smile and keep eye contact. A smile is an impacting, gracious invitation, and most of us do not smile as much as we think we do. No one is absolutely sure they have your attention until your eyes meet.
Your handshake is your personal olive branch and welcome mat. Always try to be the first to extend your hand. Gone are the days when men had to wait for a lady to extend her hand first. (Exceptions are when men are interacting with women who are much older than they are, with European woman, and with women in the Middle East and Muslim cultures.)
Be prepared to shake hands if you’re right-handed, make it a habit to carry everything in your left hand: papers, books, laptop cases, purses, drinks…you name it; carry it in your left hand so you’re always ready to shake hands without losing a few of your precious ten seconds with awkward moments of shifting items from your right to left hand before you can accept an outstretched hand.
In business circles, there is no female handshake or male handshake; there is a professional web to web handshake. Always stand up for a handshake and say your first and second name. Professionals do not shake hands across the table. Keep a reasonable distance when shaking hands and don’t be too close to each other. A double handshake is unprofessional, do not return it or initiate it. Lastly, do not shake hands throughout the conversation; it makes a bad first impression.
When I started training professionals on etiquette, most of my participants at the end of each session would ask about conversation etiquette. Well groomed professionals will not do all the talking during a conversation. One rule of thumb is to try to listen more than you talk. Demonstrate interest in what the other person is saying by asking follow up questions and offering suggestions. Speak slowly and clearly for the other person to hear. Excellent conversations are brief and specific.
The golden rule is if you are going to an office to meet someone, make sure you are friendly to everyone you meet at the office. Greet the receptionist, others in the elevator, the maintenance team among others. This act will make people in the office have a good first impression of you.
-Justice Simango is a business etiquette and grooming consultant who writes in his own capacity. He is the vice-president, membership for Supreme Toastmasters Club. Feedback: [email protected]; WhatsApp: +263717 566 382