Think back to the last time you met someone new. What about them stood out to you right away?
You might have noticed something you admired, like their perfectly matched outfit or adorable dog. Or, you might have picked up on some things you didn’t entirely appreciate — they stood a bit closer than you liked or seemed to favor an outside voice, even in a very small office.
Several factors can influence your first impression of someone, including their:
- nonverbal communication, or body language
- physical features
- clothing, accessories, and hairstyle
- voice and speech
- surrounding environment, like their office or home
Perhaps you’ve noticed all of these factors are observable traits. And certainly, you may not have much else to go on when meeting people for the first time. It takes time to get to know personality traits that really convey someone’s nature — compassion, patience, sincerity, humility, or good humor, just to name a few.
In other words, physical appearance really shouldn’t matter, but it often does — even when you don’t realize it.
When you first meet someone, your brain tends to zero in on a few specific traits, like their clothing and overall appearance, and quickly patchwork together a general idea of who they are as a person. The “halo” of this first impression can linger for a month, if not longer, and it can absolutely affect your interactions in the meantime.
With all that in mind, you might start to wonder about the first impression you leave behind. You want people to remember you, of course, but you want to feature positively in their memories.
In search of ways to leave the most favorable first impression possible? These tips can help.
You use more than spoken words to communicate with others.
Body language — including your stance, gestures, tendency to fidget, or fleeting changes in expressions — can convey quite a bit about how you feel in a given situation. Other people use this information, consciously or unconsciously, to form an impression of you.
A few tips to consider:
- Open up your posture. Turning toward the other person, instead of angling your body away, can show interest. Crossing your arms can suggest a closed-off attitude, so aim to keep them at your sides instead.
- Make some eye contact. Eye contact may not always feel easy or natural, but you don’t have to stare into someone’s eyes to make a good impression. If possible, start by making eye contact when introducing yourself, then briefly return your gaze to theirs, or to another part of their face, as you talk.
- Avoid visible fidgeting. People often assume fidgeting equals boredom, though that’s certainly not always the case. If you fidget to soothe yourself or improve your focus, try keeping a small object in your pocket or slowly wiggling your foot instead of audibly tapping it.
- Listen actively. Show interest and engagement by facing the speaker and turning toward their face, even if you don’t make direct eye contact, and nodding occasionally in response to their words.
Keep in mind: You don’t need to do all of the above every time you’re interacting with someone. If eye contact feels uncomfortable, try just focusing on your posture. If you know you’ll likely end up tapping your foot, focus on nodding or making eye contact.
Expressing interest and enthusiasm in what someone has to say can help boost your chances of making a good impression. After all, you’d probably remember someone who seemed interested in you, right?
Try a thoughtful question or comment that keeps the conversation flowing and makes it clear you’ve been paying attention. This strategy can work well in any situation — at work, school, or even on a date.
Can’t think of anything to ask? If the conversation comes to a natural pause, you might try, “I’m really enjoying your description of X” or “I’d love to hear more.”
Just keep any comments or compliments you offer honest and genuine. People generally want to know they can trust you, after all. If they pick up on any insincerity in your words or behavior, they’ll likely remember that, instead.
Hoping to get to know someone better without tons of questions? Try these tips.
A subtly happy facial expression could also help you seem more trustworthy than a neutral or subtly angry facial expression, according to a 2021 study. Study participants not only rated people with happier expressions as more trustworthy, but they also said they’d be more likely to loan them money or vote for them.
In short, don’t hesitate to laugh, smile, and show excitement. You don’t have to force a smile if you’re not feeling it, of course — a fake smile might have the opposite effect.
Still, it could be worth aiming for a more relaxed expression. If you notice some tightness in your jaw, for example, you might try slightly parting your lips. This doesn’t just help open up your expression. It could also help ease any nervousness or tension you’re feeling in the moment.
Clothing can offer clues to your interests, hobbies, and even your personality. Maybe you prefer athleisure wear because you like to stay active (and comfortable), or you practically live in your perfectly worn jeans and a rotation of T-shirts featuring your favorite quotes and funny sayings.
Older research from 2009 suggests that body language and nonverbal communication play more of a part in first impressions than clothing and accessories, but your personal style can play a role, too.
There’s nothing wrong with expressing yourself through your clothing and accessories, of course. Just know that certain situations do call for a slightly more formal look.
You might, for instance, want to swap your loungewear for something in the realm of business casual before joining a Zoom call with your new supervisor. Headed to a meeting with the professor supervising your research? It’s probably best to ditch the clothes you just wore on a long run with your dog.
The “right” outfit doesn’t always have to be fancy or new, either. A favorite outfit you feel comfortable in can go a long way toward boosting your confidence in a way that people notice and remember. Brand-new clothes you haven’t yet adjusted to, on the other hand, might leave you feeling awkward or uncomfortable in a way that people also pick up on.
You can avoid unintentionally giving offense by making sure your clothing and accessories don’t promote stereotypes or appropriate elements of other cultures.
A few examples of things to consider carefully:
- chopsticks as hair accessories
- sports T-shirts featuring teams with offensive names
- feather headbands
- locs, cornrows, and other styles for natural hair, if you aren’t Black
You might say certain things to close friends or romantic partners that you wouldn’t mention to your parents, teachers, or your boss at work, right? Well, it can help to switch on a similar filter when meeting new people.
It’s all too easy to accidentally say something inconsiderate — even offensive — when you don’t know much about someone’s experience, background, or interests.
- “I hate sports. I just don’t get why anyone would waste their time and money going to those games.”
- “Religion is meaningless. It’s obviously just a way to get money and control people.“
- “I don’t understand how depression counts as a disability. I’ve felt sad before, but I just got on with my life.”
Expressing strong or judgmental opinions when meeting someone for the first time can influence how they perceive you.
- aiming for neutral conversation topics
- avoiding derogatory or critical remarks
- avoiding extremes, like “I hate X” or “all people with Y”
It can also help to skip the profanity. Research from 2018 suggests swearing could, in some contexts, lead others to perceive you as:
- less intelligent
- less trustworthy
- less sociable
Sure, chit-chat about the weather or other everyday topics can sometimes seem boring — but it can often pay off when it comes to leaving a positive impression.
- ask someone about the book sticking out of their bag, which turns out to be one of your favorite books
- mention that all the rain recently has kept you from going hiking, only to discover you both frequent the same trail
- comment on the cat sticker on their notebook, which leads to a conversation about your pets
Even simple comments, like “I really like this new professor” or “Those are great shoes,” can spark a conversation they’ll remember later.
Even when you don’t put your opinions about a specific person or situation into words directly, those feelings can come through in your body language, face, and voice.
Maybe you feel annoyed because the hiring manager is 15 minutes late to your interview or skeptical about the date your friend set up for you. And really, who doesn’t find first-day icebreaker activities awkward and uncomfortable?
These (entirely valid) feelings can tint your perception of other people before things even get rolling, which can, in turn, affect their impression of you.
For example, a hiring manager who hears irritation in your voice might assume you’re not terribly excited about the job. A date who senses your reluctance might feel less motivated to put in any effort.
The goal here isn’t to ignore or hide your feelings.
Reframing them, however, can help you approach the upcoming meeting with a more optimistic and welcoming mindset.
Maybe the date involves zero chemistry, but you’ll have some great food — and a story to tell your friend. That silly icebreaker? It could help you make a new friend — especially if you go into it with a sense of humor.
At the end of the day, it can help to remember that first impressions often happen very quickly — in a fraction of a second, 2006 research suggests.
Others begin forming an impression of you as soon as they see your face. Often, these impressions stem from things you can’t control, like stereotypes, personal bias, or even your facial features.
That’s why you can’t always influence how others perceive you, no matter how hard you try.
Rather than devoting your energy to leaving the best first impression possible, a better strategy might involve entering all of your interactions with respect, compassion, and an open mind.
These traits may not be the first thing others notice — but they’ll still help distinguish you from the crowd, not to mention have a more lasting impact on your relationships.
Plus, anyone worth forging a connection with probably won’t make up their mind about you based on a momentary glimpse of your physical features. They’ll be willing to take the time to get to know you.
It’s natural to want others to like and accept you right from the start.
While it’s undoubtedly true that a first impression can set the tone for future interactions, it’s also worth keeping in mind that first impressions are largely unconscious. In short, you can’t always control them.
You might wonder, then, what you can do to start relationships off the right way.
One good first step? Approach every new meeting with kindness, empathy, and a willingness to learn and grow.