What is it about new people that makes us anxious?
Most of us would say:
“What will he/she think about me!”
If you think deeper, it’s actually a FEELING of lack of control over your impression on them.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can gain control and make a purposeful yet authentic first impression.
But first, the science.
When you meet someone for the first time, your brain is hardwired to compute in almost one tenth of a second whether the other person is Trust-worthy, Attractive, Likable, Competent, and Aggressive.
It’s a prehistoric survival mechanism.
Depending on the situation; all or some of these five traits help you decide if this new person is a friend or a foe.
Since this decision making window is so short, it essentially means that your brain makes these decisions mostly through body language and nonverbal communication.
Now this science has immense applications.
Whether it’s a job interview, a sales call or a first date – you can be in control of the first impression you make, by being purposeful with your body language.
Try these 6 non-verbal hacks to make a purposeful, powerful and confident first impression.
#1 Take Up Space
There’s no doubt that a confident person makes a killer first impression. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to take up space with your body.
This is not being aggressive or overbearing 🙂
It’s more like claiming your space; or as researched by Amy Cuddy at Harvard Business School – POWER POSING
“Power posing is an amazing tool for confidence, assertiveness and to be able to emanate gravitas. You can use it in pretty much any situation – anytime you’d like an internal state change, whether just before an important business meeting or a social gathering.” – Amy Cuddy
The best way to power pose is to pull your chin up, draw your shoulders back, uncross your arms and plant your feet on the ground. When your body expands like this, your stress hormone (cortisol) goes down and the strength hormone (testosterone) goes up.
These physiological changes help you authentically feel confident.
Tactical Tip 1 = Carry all your stuff in one smart bag. If you’re used to carrying a laptop bag, a purse (ladies please note!), and a tiffin bag that’s too much load on your shoulders to keep a confident posture. If not everyday, then at least when you’re about to meet someone new, lose these additional bags.
Tactical Tip 2 = Always, keep your phone near your eye level so that you’re not unknowingly putting yourself in a low power pose.
#2 Keep Your Hands Visible
Many of us keep our hands in pockets or cross our arms. That could be costing you on your trustworthiness.
Let me explain why.
Our hands are our trust indicators.
As a survival mechanism, our brains needed to quickly know whether someone is a friend or a foe. Our ancestors made survival decisions based solely on bits of visual information they picked up from one another. In our prehistory, when someone approached with hands out of view, it was a clear signal of potential danger.
This is one of the nonverbal signals that is deeply ingrained in our subconscious. Although today the threat of hidden hands is more symbolic than real, our psychological discomfort remains.
When you meet someone, you want their brain to relax and be at ease so that they can focus on interacting with you.
The best way to do this is to keep your hands
- Out of pockets
- Above the table and
- Clear of any obstruction like glass, bag or a folder
Watch this video to learn more about the science of your hands.
#3 Make an Effort to Smile
You can initiate a good first impression even when you’re 100 feet away.
What I mean is that the human brain can recognize a smile from this distance. From a survival standpoint this makes sense. Back in our caveman days, we needed to know even before the person approached us, if they’re safe or if they’ll attack us.
Researchers at Uppsala University, Sweden found that when someone smiles at us, it stimulates our brains mirror neurons, which makes us smile back, therefore creating a mutually positive experience.
Additionally, another study found that when we smile we come across as competent, which is one of the traits that the other person’s brain is subconsciously assessing us on.
#4 Make a Good Eye Contact
When you enter a new room or a coffee shop you sub-consciously survey the place with your eyes. It’s a survival instinct – essential for our brain to “declare” the place as safe!
But in that process, we forget to make an eye contact during our initial exchange of greetings and miss a fantastic opportunity to build rapport.
Here’s the science of it.
When we make eye contact we release Oxytocin.
Oxytocin, also known as the bonding hormone helps in forging and strengthening social relations. It’s released mostly through physical touch and mutual eye contact. So when we shake hands WITH an eye contact it initiates our connection with that person.
Tactical Tip = Give one-sentence-long eye contact. Let’s say you’re saying “Hi, how are you?” Make an eye contact for this full sentence.
#5 Give a Confident Handshake
So many of us go about shaking hands without THINKING about the quality of our handshake. It’s important to do it right.
It’s a nonverbal tool to build rapport and make a memorable first impression.
Have a look at this video on the science of a good handshake.
#6 Avoid Self-Calming Gestures
If it’s a first meeting where the stakes are high; there’s a likelihood you’re nervous or self-conscious.
Your body reveals these nerves by using self-calming gestures
Self-calming gestures also called as pacifying behaviors or adapters serve to calm us down after our brain experiences something uncomfortable.
So basically, what happens is that when you meet someone new, your brain might feel uncomfortable. It sends a message to the body.
“Pacify me now, please.”
And your hands respond immediately by self-soothing which stimulates nerve endings, releasing the calming hormone endorphins.
Infants and young children display these behaviors when they suck their thumbs. As we grow older we adopt more discreet and socially acceptable ways to satisfy the need to calm ourselves.
This could be stroking your hair, pulling at your collar, rubbing your arms, touching your face, tapping your foot, playing with an object, touching the back of your neck or holding your upper arm in a self-hug.
When you’re out of sorts, you have every right to comfort yourself. But to the other person’s brain, these gestures make you come across as tentative, unprepared, insecure or low on confidence.
So, your goal should be to
- Identify your self-soothing behaviors and
- Understand how you’re feeling at at that time. You’ll be surprised at how much you can glean from these behaviors.
This video will help you with an exercise.
In short, remember the 5S’s
Smile, Show Hands, Shake Hands, Stand Tall and Avoid Self-Soothing Behaviors
+ Make a good eye contact.
Do give these tips a spin!
By being mindful of your non-verbals, you can purposefully and authentically make the desired impact on people.
Written by Khyati Gupta Babbar, Santulan.