Whether it’s a past mistake, a misunderstanding, or simply getting off on the wrong foot, not everyone will have a high opinion of you. Unfortunately, that negative perception can impact your ability to work together, lead, or get ahead. If it’s a first impression, it can be hard to undo, says Dr. Theresa DiDonato, professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland.
“Once formed, they create people’s future expectations, and these expectations shape subsequent interactions,” she says. “In other words, what people think of us can—through self-fulfilling prophesies—make us behave in ways aligned with their first impression of us.”
While it may be tempting, don’t write off a relationship, says Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, practicing psychiatrist and chief medical officer of LifeStance Health, a virtual and in-person outpatient mental health care provider. “Some people assume the worst about the future of a relationship when it doesn’t get off on the best foot and stop trying to further it altogether,” she says.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do. “Negative first impressions can be moved if new information undercuts the initial evaluation, not only offering positive impression info but, critically, offering new explanations for what was previously interpreted as evidence for a negative judgment,” says DiDonato.
Assess the Situation
Before trying to rectify what you think was a bad first impression, take a moment to reflect on the information and signals you’ve received from others, says Michaela Simpson, Ph.D., senior researcher at NeuroLeadership Institute, global neuroscience-backed consultancy firm.
“If have indeed made a negative first impression, decide whether it’s something that needs repairing,” she says. “In other words, will it negatively impact your ability to perform your job and to work collaboratively with others?”
For example, if you inadvertently made an insensitive comment to a team member, Simpson recommends reaching out to let them know you were nervous and acknowledge that you put your foot in your mouth.
Look for a Second Chance
Patel-Dunn suggest finding a way to reconnect and demonstrate more of your character. For example, if the bad first impression was made meeting a new client or on a job interview, follow up with a letter or email.
“Thank them for their time, show more of your personality and authenticity so that you’re more comfortable with how the interaction ended,” she says. “That way, you can focus on the way you remedied the situation, rather than the uncomfortable encounter itself.”
Focus on the Other Person
It helps to get out of your own head, says Kindra Hall, president and chief storytelling officer at Steller Collective, a communications consulting firm, and author of the forthcoming book Choose Your Story, Change Your Life. “Chances are, you’re making it seem worse than it actually is,” she says. “The key to keeping it cool when you get a second chance is to change the story you have in your head.”
Hall recommends asking questions and moving the focus from you to them. “The best questions will encourage the individual to tell a story about themselves,” she says. “For example, if the next time you see them is at an industry event reception, ask, ‘Do you remember your first time at this event?’ We like people more who seem interested in us and we feel more connected to those with whom we exchange stories.”
Pay Attention to Your Actions
Making sure your actions match how you want to be perceived is also important, says Roberta Matuson, author of Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work.
“Our behaviors matter, not our intention,” says Matuson. “I may like you to think of me in a certain way, but if my behaviors are in direct opposition of that I won’t change how you think.”
Don’t Try Too Hard
Avoid trying to overcompensate or making too much of an effort to change their perception, says Hall. “While this is only natural, it will likely make things worse,” she says.
Whether you work in an office or interact with your colleagues online, you will very likely have frequent interactions with them, adds Simpson. “When you bring your authentic self to work and show your colleagues that you are competent, a team player, and that they can rely on you, the multiple interactions they have with you every day will eventually override that one moment they met you,” she says. “Be patient; these things take time.”
But Know When to Address the Issue
If you believe that someone’s opinion is harming your career, don’t be afraid to confront someone who may be harboring ill thoughts of you, says Matuson. “I don’t believe in going around the block to go next door; I believe in direct communication,” she says. “I believe in saying, ‘Here’s what I heard. Is that what you were told? If so, I’d like to present my side of the story.'”
While you may not care what others think, perception is important if you want to move up in an organization, says Matuson. “You may think you’re the greatest leader in the world, but if nobody else thinks that, it doesn’t matter what you think,” she says. “You have to work really hard and manage those relationships.”