Let’s dig a little deeper into first impressions,what makes up this ‘first impression’, what control you have over it and things you can do to ensure it is the right impression.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong impression.Everyone has there own story and therefore a somewhat unique impression they choose to leave on others day to day.Bikers, salesman, lawyers etc should all conjure up a different picture in your mind.However while there is no right or wrong impression I think its important to understand that we each have direct control of how others relate and interact with us.So choose wisely.
I recall a documentary not too many years back in which a senior school class from a lower class American district modified things such as clothing, body language and speech to see if the response they received from strangers would be different.Students who usually wore baggy jeans, baseball/basketball singlets etc changed image and approached complete strangers on the street to ask for directions or assistance.The short story is that there was an amazingly different level of engagement any one student had with various strangers depending on the clothing, body language and speech they used.
Stereotypes play a significant role here;think about how long it takes you to size up and evaluate a total stranger from a distance.While we may reserve some judgement and wait to get to know people before deciding, the unavoidable fact is that a great percentage is already decided before that stranger utters a word.The amusing thing is that based on a stereotype we even look specifically for the evidence to prove we were right.Rather than seeing the actual person.Like the cab driver I was talking to the other day, he was a qualified doctor in his home country but couldn’t be recognised here.While that may be for good reason he was still a doctor driving a taxi.I can think of many more like that and I am sure you can think of your own examples where people surprised you.
So clothing, this would easily be the most significant factor in setting an impression.Apart from being the most noticeable, clothes are also specifically marketed to deliver an image;sexy, smart, bohemian, surfer, tough, metro…..If you want to be perceived as a switched-on go-getter than the latest billabong gear may not be the ultimate choice (unless you’re entering the pro surfer circuit).
Body language.Walking down the street wearing a nice suit but staring at your feet sends two conflicting messages.Body language is a more trusted source of evaluating who people really are and so people will take guidance from how your acting as apposed to what your wearing.The other interesting aspect isthat if you don’t act the way you look then people will quickly become distrusting as subconsciously they suspect your trying to trick them.This doesn’t mean that to leave the impression that goes with the outfit you have to adopt a complete new persona.It is more about being comfortable and confident about being yourself.
Speech. In that documentary the majority of the class managed to transform their appearance and body language so that every stranger they approached stopped and engaged them.They had hidden microphones so you could hear what was said, and it was fascinating to see how quickly the engagement changed as they continued to talk.Again people couldn’t align the appearance and body language with the tone and choice of words.Picture one student walking up in business attire and then rolling out a sentence containing multiple slang words in an almost gangster style.Best case was that the strangers gave them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps thinking they appear to be trying to do the right thing.
And if your choosing that ‘on my way to prison’ image then be prepared for people to treat you that way.I often see and hear people being treated the exact way they present themselves and wonder why.We are each in control and can change the pattern at any time.Next time your walking down the street, smile or say hello to the people that cross your path and see what sort of response you get.It won’t always be returned but you may be surprised. Even just being aware of the expression you have,serious or relaxed. Being mentally more open and engaging makes a difference in my experience.