How to make a great first impression every time – and why you may have been doing it wrong!

What does it take to make a good first impression?

For years we’ve been told a strong handshake, eye contact and appearing confident is the winning formula.

According to Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy that is not the best advice. People size you up in seconds and they are evaluating two key things – Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person? In that order.

Most business people believe that competence is the more important first impression factor, but in fact trustworthiness (also referred to as warmth) is the critical factor in how people first evaluate you. This has to do with our deep evolutionary bias, as it is crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.

While competence is highly valued, it is evaluated only after trust.

“If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far,” Cuddy says. “A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration”. But it’s only after you’ve established trust that strength and competence become a gift if they are displayed too early then it’s seen a threat.

When we form a first impression of another person it’s not really a single impression, we’re really forming two. We’re judging how trustworthy the person is by answering the question, “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” A split second later, we’re asking ourselves, “How competent is this person?” Research shows that these two trait dimensions account for 80 to 90 percent of an overall first impression, across most cultures.

The irony is that when we first meet someone we’re looking for trust or warmth, but we’re trying to project competence and confidence.

To help make the best impression, scientific research tells us that giving trust builds trust. If you are trusting and project trust, then people are more likely to trust you.

So make your next first impression built on projecting trust and warmth and you’ll be off to a great start.