The axiom that you never get a second chance to make a first impression still holds water, but few of us are aware that reputations are made, and broken, in just seven seconds.
Like it or not, human beings are a judgmental bunch.
For better or worse, we rush to judgment based on the initial observations we form in the first seven seconds after meeting someone, and these are almost impossible to shake.
“We don’t do it on purpose, but we’re human and it happens,” says Sylvie Di Giusto, an executive image consultant and personal branding strategist, whose clients include BMW, Bayer, McKinsey and Thomas Cook. “We imprint a specific opinion in our brain, and our brain wants to be right, so we are always looking for validation of our initial impressions.”
Where do we go wrong? And what must we be on guard for to ensure that we leave a positive imprint in those first crucial seconds? Sylvie shared the ABC’s and D’s of it on a recent edition of my weekly radio program, Mind Your Business, on 77WABC radio.
- A) Appearance
The first thing people do when they meet is look the other person over. Our clothing, hairstyle and facial expression are important, but only as part of the bigger picture, which is the image we choose to project. And we’ve got to micromanage that. Your image is not what you think it is. Your image is what people think about you and what they say about you behind your back.
The second thing people notice about you is your body language and business etiquette. This includes how you greet people, shake hands, and your posture while standing, sitting, and walking around. Many people are overly concerned about making eye contact, but Sylvie advises making eye contact with your ears: “We lose eye contact when we don’t listen anymore. Focus on your listening skills first and the eye contact will come naturally.”
Just like we only have seven seconds to make a first impression, the first 11 words of every conversation are decisive. Most people start a conversation with something stiff like, ‘how are you doing?’ and if you do, you’ve already wasted four of your 11 words on something forgettable. The most effective way to begin a conversation is to find something impressive about the other person and open with that.
D) Digital Footprint
Since email and texting are so prevalent, people will scrutinize your writing. Everything from your opening salutation to how many typos you make. Remember, the Internet and social media are totally unforgiving. Your digital footprint is the first thing someone researches before they even meet you. One wrong click can destroy your entire reputation or career.
Although we can’t help being judged on these four criteria, they are not what we want to be known for. “You don’t want to be known for your appearance, behavior, or some weird communication tic you have,” Sylvie says. “You want to be known for your excellence, your skills, your knowledge and the added value you bring to the table.”
The way you build that type of reputation is to package yourself as authentic, confident, professional, respectful and controlled. These are the primary characteristics found in business and community leaders and are universal among anyone who’s worked their way up into the C-Suite in corporate America.
Today, you might be toiling in relative anonymity in the mailroom or in a dimly-lit, windowless office, but if your goal is to be CEO one day, start behaving, appearing and communicating like a CEO from day one. It might take 20 years or more to get there, but you won’t get close unless people have already scoped you out as CEO material long before you ever had a shot at the position.
You are the author of your story, not your boss, or your company. “You are the CEO of your career. You are your best marketing machine. You have a product to offer and you are responsible for the marketing story you create for yourself,” Sylvie says.
Bottom Line Action Step: Mind your ABC’s and D’s and you might find yourself in the C-Suite one day.
To listen to the complete interview click here.