We've all been told ad nauseam how how important first impressions are—how it takes just a fraction of a second for others to form opinions about us. Not only have Princeton psychologists estimated that we form impressions of strangers based on their faces within just a tenth of a second, they discovered that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those initial assessments (even though our confidence in those judgments may strengthen when we're given more time). And we also know that negative first impressions are difficult to overcome.
This is yet another one of those areas where emotional intelligence can come in handy. But while highly emotionally intelligent people may have a leg up when it comes to making a great first impression, that's not thanks to some ineffable power they're endowed with. It comes down to a few key behaviors and traits you can practice over time. Here are five of them.
Those with high emotional intelligence hold a genuine interest in others and imagine how they'll think and feel when they first meet. When you've got an event on the calendar where you expect to meet new people, give it some forethought. And as you do, imagine all the details—how to dress, the location and context, and what you may be able to do to make the other person (or people) feel comfortable. This may sound fussy, but it can help that introduction go smoothly.
Nothing turns off someone you first meet more than a ringing cell phone, poor eye contact, or haphazard listening. Emotionally intelligent people are fully present, and they push aside any distractions that may get in the way of offering their full attention to somebody new.
This can also come down, to some extent, to planning. As far as it's in your power, try and pick a good location (consider noise level) and consider both your and the other person's intention and outcome of the introduction. That can be indistinct or merely social at first, and that's fine—just give it some thought. you need to have a baseline of expectations in order to be able to block out any unexpected distractions.
Being aware of themselves helps emotionally intelligent people stand back, look at themselves, and focus on how they'll be perceived by others. This helps them approach others with a smile, a warm welcoming look, and a firm handshake (or, if it's appropriate, a sincere hug).
People with high emotional intelligence are aware of body language—theirs and others—and use this knowledge to indicate (with their bodies) they're open to what the other person has to say. What's more, they know this can be even more important than the words they use—that the person they're meeting will be making subconscious judgments about them based on the messages their own bodies send.
Some easy cues can make a big difference. Try standing shoulder-to-shoulder, at an angle to one another, as opposed to facing each other head-on. And don't overdo the eye contact; look at each other consistently but don't stare too intensely either. A genuine, connecting look will convey interest and sincerity.
But keep in mind that these acts take just seconds to happen and relay a complex set of messages to the brain. To get them right, you can't force yourself into a set of deliberate behaviors. You need to practice them until they're automatic. So the more you put yourself into situations where you're forced to meet new people, the better you'll become.
Plenty of people tell themselves, "I'm just no good at names"—and that may be true. But the fact remains that one of the sweetest sounds to our ears is that of our own names, properly pronounced. When we meet someone new, the first sign that we're important to them is how they treat our name. If you aren't sure how to pronounce somebody's name, just politely ask them to repeat it. Take the time and effort to listen to them say it and repeat it back until they say you've got it right. This may feel a little awkward but it shows you actually care—and it's better than mishearing a name, not bothering to correct it, and bungling (repeatedly) later.
This can also be a great way to break the ice and jump into small talk—ask about family of origin and the meaning of an unfamiliar name. This can be another casual way for emotionally intelligent people to convey a sense of mutual respect, acknowledgment, and interest in learning about somebody new.
You can also use mnemonic devices to help someone's name stick in your head. Maybe I've just met a "Bob." I notice Bob has a round figure, so I envision him "bobbing" up and down in a swimming pool. Of course, I may not want to tell Bob this is how I think of him for the purpose of remembering his name, but it's a useful way to do it.
One of our most basic needs is simply to be heard. That much you know. But without realizing it, you may spend too much space in a conversation thinking of how to reply than actually listening to the other person's words. People with high emotional intelligence make a conscious choice to try to understand where the other person is coming from—to grasp not only what someone is saying but why they're saying it. And that means listening not just to the content of somebody's speech but their tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions.
To be sure, these aren't the only things that cause highly emotionally intelligent people to make great first impressions. But these behaviors can show others—even subconsciously—that you're going the extra mile to learn and care about them from the very first instant you meet.