A Professional’s “Starting 5” of First Impressions

By: Brett Renzenbrink, Esq. Instagram @the_leganomist

It’s not radical, novel, nor even new to say that our perception of an individual’s personality is influenced – if not entirely controlled – by our first impressions.

Countless studies, again and again, have reaffirmed their profound (sometimes entirely subconscious) impact on our psyche, so to present this concept as something you care about is simply not worth the time it would take to read this.

It’s not even interesting.

What is interesting, though, is the extent to which these thin slices of impressions control and override future, immutable truths about our personalities. And even more importantly, how (and if) we can pedicure the foot we put forward such that we can use those instant impressions to our advantage.

Professionals are “People Products”

That is, a consumer’s decision to buy is primarily dictated by that individual’s trust and belief that our product (i.e. us) is “good”. Perception, then, becomes critical, And initial perception (especially when it trumps future realities), is even more.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”

He discusses this phenomenon at length. Instead of diving in, I’ll give you a thin slice of his exposition on thin slices: their power is real, and we make extremely important(and usually accurate) decisions about the most intimate aspects of an individual’s personality, core values, and competencies within a matter of seconds. He also exposes how our brains, lazy as can be, default to judging each new piece of information by juxtaposing it in an instant against those initial impressions to determine if it is consistent (in other words, seemingly true).

Here’s An Example

So, if Terry is initially perceived to be rich, obnoxious, and a liar, later on, we’d look his/her charitable donations as reaffirmation of the fact that he/she is manipulating our tax code for personal gain. If, on the other hand, we first perceive Terry while working at a homeless shelter and believe him/her to be virtuous, then we’ll fight internally to justify their later-discovered wealth as being earned from some sort of a noble pursuit.

The Human Lenses of Perception

We also carry with us assumptions about certain “types” of people that act as a lens through which we experience initial impressions simultaneously. Many professions like mine (Law), come to mind. People who have never interacted with lawyers, for example, bring with them only their impressions of lawyers ingrained by TV, movies, and the like. And those pre-initial impressions, I can promise you, are very infrequently that lawyers generally an “ethical, good, kind, virtuous, friendly, cost-conscious, and down-to-Earth” bunch.

That’s why we need to exert so much damn effort being ethical, good, kind, virtuous, friendly, cost-conscious, and down-to-Earth. Unless you just don’t care.

In which case, your existence isn’t doing the rest of us any favors.

We also need to focus – I mean really focus – on controlling how we are perceived in those first five seconds. I like to call this My “Starting Five”.

What are the Starting 5?

Like any basketball team, all 5 starters must come together and move in unison. And, if there is one weak link (like an undersized center, or a slow point guard, or shooting guard on an off-night), that weak link will be taken advantage of – and those assumptions will win out.

Your Professional Starting Five, in order:

  • Eye Contact
  • Smile
  • Physical Contact
  • Name Recognition
  • and Verbal Connection.

The trick is to nailing all five of these in the first five seconds of meeting someone…

1. Eye Contact: One of the most powerful ways to communicate subconsciously and emote confidence is through the eyes. It shows attention, induces likability/attraction, causes others to be more aware of you and themselves in the interaction, and – as we’ll see is vitally important in a moment – it increases the likelihood of being memorable.

2. Smile: There are a number of benefits to smiling (even when forcibly smiling) such as looking younger, thinner, more attractive, and actually dictating the length of your life, or happiness in your marriage. What’s relevant here, though, is that smiling also induces a psychological mood lift, makes you seem more trustworthy, and is contagious to anyone who sees you.

3. Physical Contact: This is all about confidence. An entire conversation occurs between our hands when we meet. Like dogs who sniff each other upon meeting to size each other up, we “sniff each other” with our hands. Confidence and respect are key. For my money, I like to be firm but also match the intensity of the other party as best I can. And if you can create a second point of contact (like another hand on theirs, or their arm/shoulder) the statistics say “even better”.

4. Name Recognition: There is no word, nor any song, in this lifetime that will sound as sweet to someone as their own name. It’s a psychological fact: people will like you if you demonstrate you know their name, and are paying attention to them by using it. And using it freely and frequently as is possible. Use it literally every organic chance you have and you’ll progress. Forget their name, and miss opportunities to connect forever. You’ll be in a nameless orbit with that person forever, never able to connect within the barrier.

5. Verbal Connection: This can occur one of two ways. Either connect with the actual pitch of their voice. You will create a “Communection” where you can actually harmonize with the pitch of each other’s voices; or more likely, connect with them verbally on something, anything…it shows you are aware of your surroundings and care enough about them to pay attention to their position in them.

So, again, within five seconds of meeting your next prospect, run your Starting Five on the floor: Make eye contact, smile, create a confident point (or points) of physical contact, repeat their name back to them, and connect with some aspect of their circumstance.

And, if you want to learn about your “6th Man” of Interpersonal Communication (or about how to build your book of professional business with mine), check out “4L, What They Don’t Teach You About Law in Law School” at 4lthebook.com, or @the_leganomist today!