Mastering First Impressions With the Art of Body Language

How small changes to your body language and non-verbal communication will transform the way you succeed in business and life.

Picture yourself walking down a city’s high-street, flanked by the flashy facades of luxurious clothing and jewellery makers. While you might not have come to this street for any particular reason, your eyes are suddenly caught by an extravagant visual display; be it of a pair of shoes, a diamond ring, or that new book you’ve been looking for. You keep walking down the street, and the further you go, the facades begin to deteriorate. The flashy lights are gone, the displays look cheaper, and there’s an unhappy looking person sitting behind the counter on their phone. If the prices were identical- where would you make your purchase?

This is a simple thought exercise about the importance of first impressions… how difficult they are to ignore, and how stubbornly evidence they can be in your decision making; at times, regardless of the reason. The product might be identical in one of the shops down the street, but the aesthetics on the high-street caught your eye, and research suggests that once an impression like that is made, it’s almost impossible to shake it.

First impressions last, they’re irreversible and they’re essential to master if you want to leverage both your personal and professional success in life. There’s a body of research out there suggesting that first impressions are made anywhere between 33-milliseconds to seven seconds; regardless of the actual number, it’s evident to see that a long-lasting judgement is made in no time at all. This on the forefront might sound scary, but I’d like you to flip it on its head, imagine it as a chance to make a great impression that will stick around in a matter of a few seconds. Best of all, it’s all based in common sense, and once you take note of what will increase your chances of closing a deal, these aspects will become second nature to you, and you’ll be more likely to get the desired outcome.

We’re about to dive into a few basic and manageable aspects of your body language that you’ll be able to tweak as you move into the future. The aim is to make you from the outset appear as though you are:

  1. An authority in your given field.

  2. Keen, enthusiastic & willing to go above and beyond in the delivery of your product or service.

  3. Intelligent, and more than willing to open yourself up to new things. It’s been said before that the eyes are the gateway to the soul, and they are no doubt one of the first things that our subconsciousness are scanning when we’re making our initial judgement of someone. Effective use of eye contact is essential in building the trust and confidence of the person you’re interacting with, however, it’s a delicate tightrope to walk- and one that many people find themselves overthinking as they try to balance.

The problem is this: people that maintain too much eye contact offer up the same raft of connotations as those that avoid eye contact- they’ll appear untrustworthy. It’s a fairly common human trait to avoid or minimise the amount of eye contact people make, particularly early on in a personal or professional relationship. Making eye contact can be a daunting task, particularly if you can get anxious in social interactions; this is magnified if we’re talking about high-stakes professional interactions. A tip often mentioned in regard to eye contact is the 50/70 rule. With the 50/70 rule, you should be aiming to maintain eye contact 50% of the time when you’re speaking, and 70% of the time when you’re listening to someone else.

If looking someone directly in the eye is too stressful, try looking at their nose, mouth or chin… It will come across as though you’re still giving them your full attention. Hold eye contact for anywhere between 4 to 5 seconds at a time, and don’t look down when you do break your gaze; it will look as though you’re lacking in confidence. Listening with your eyes may on the outset sound a little bit strange, but it’s a tip that will significantly improve the way you interact with people. When someone is talking to you, be careful not to gaze off into the distance, even if you truly are listening to what they’re saying; regardless of your intentions, you’ll come across as rude.

Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has for many years studied the correlation between positive body language exhibited through proper posture and success in numerous contexts. At times, his research was rooted in the examination of lobsters at the bottom of the sea floor, while other times he was examining human patients as their psychologist. Regardless of the animal he was studying, Peterson found that confidence is inexplicably linked to success in a variety of forms; be it financial, geographical - which lobster gets the best rock - or luck with the opposite sex. If you begin paying attention to non-verbal cues like your posture, how your shoulders are sitting, if your back is hunched over or if your chest is sticking out, you’ll be more able to exude an air of confidence.

This is particularly crucial when we’re talking about first impressions. In your first interaction with someone of importance, ideally, you want to emanate confidence, trustworthiness, intelligence and even an ounce of inspiration for the person you’re dealing with. There is also a body of research out there suggesting that proper posture can spark a positive feedback loop in the brain’s production of serotonin and lower levels of cortisol; your brain’s release of pleasure and stress chemicals.

What we’re trying to establish here, is that your overall body positioning shows that you’re a productive, healthy and enthusiastic person to deal with. Clear-cut signs of this include the posture of your back- whether or not you’re standing up straight with your shoulders back, and you’re not slouching forward.

Dress to Impress... This is one of our no-brainers. People are judgemental; we can’t escape that fact. In some situations, you’ll have to play the game just like everyone else. If you’re meeting with someone, regardless of the context, you’re either consciously or subconsciously managing what you’re wearing. If you’re not, it’s unlikely you’ve worked a job in a while. In the context of an online business- it’s even more cut-throat. There are articles out there suggesting your online storefront has a mere 50-milliseconds to make a lasting impression and capture the time, attention and hopefully the money of that visitor. We’re aesthetic-based creatures, and we can be cruel in just how quickly we’ll make that judgement.

This applies too when we’re talking about brick and mortar organisations, and online businesses that don’t pay enough attention to their marketing or the appearance of their business. Too many leaders in business put 100% of their time and resources into their operations while relegating the marketing of the business as a simple afterthought.

We made it this far without kicking around an age-old cliche, so forgive us.

You only get one chance at a first impression, so take these into consideration, and you’ll surely be making a great impression in that job interview, with your colleague, or your future partner. We’ve snatched our two closing points from the notorious Jordan Belfort, who says that ideally, your body language should exhibit and inspire the emotions of someone that can help them achieve their goals, and help get them what they want in life. Confidence, respect and a welcoming smile are what sell a good first impression, and ultimately, yourself.

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