You may have heard of the New Year tradition of first-footing. In Scottish and Northern English folklore, the first-foot is the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year and is a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.
The first-foot, (by tradition a preferably tall dark-haired male), usually brings several gifts, including a silver coin for good luck, bread, salt, coal, an evergreen, and a drink (eg whisky) which represent financial prosperity, food, warmth, long-life, and good cheer. From this point, further entertainment ensues and the New Year is off to a cracking start.
How’s that for a super first impression eh?
But what about all us non-eligible first-footers – the females, the shorter men, the blondies, baldies and the red-heads?! What can we do to make sure that we give an outstanding first impression to whoever we meet and greet, not just on New Year’s Day, but every day of the year?
A few weeks ago, I formed 2 very contrasting first impressions of meeting 2 groups of people within a few hours of each other – and I’d like to share the consequences of those impressions with you.
The first group were first-year business students at Bournemouth University who I had been invited to give a ‘motivational lecture’ to. When I arrived at the University I found that I had been given a pre-allocated parking space where I was greeted by two smiling students who helped carry my kit to the lecture room while asking me a number of genuine, open questions. They asked if I wanted any refreshments, introduced me to their fellow students and helped set up the room. During the lecture, all the students were engaged, energetic and proactive, the rapport levels were beyond belief and we all left the room on a high, with social media posts galore. Afterwards they carried the kit to my car and even produced a couple of boxes of biscuits that they left in the boot of the car for me.
The first impressions I received from the group and from Rebecca, the wonderful Management Faculty Co-ordinator, inspired me not just to want to give them the absolute best lecture that they had ever had and give them as much care as I would give to my own children, but I felt urged to establish a longer-term relationship with them; to mentor them to achieve the best value possible and to be accountable for their actions throughout their 3 years at the University. As a result, I am now part of the faculty team and anticipate my Raise Your Game Now! Material being included on the curriculum!
Immediately after the lecture I went for an interview for potential membership of a Freemason’s Lodge. The contrast in first impressions couldn’t have been greater. I’ll just give you a glimpse of what was a ghastly encounter.
Upon arrival there were no friendly smiles or handshakes, I was told ‘We are in an interview, please wait in your car’, which I did on a freezing cold night – no invite to wait in the bar, no offer of a cuppa, no rapport building. There were around 10 interviewers, most of whom were headmaster-like in their manner, no one stood up or introduced themselves to me. I was then briefly told that the Masons were all about brotherly love, treating others how you would like to be treated (!)… that I must commit to attend 6 times a year on a Monday evening, I would be expected to give to charity each time and pay subscriptions of circa £250 in advance. Bosh, interview over. It was as if I should feel privileged to be a part of their gang.
Naturally, I had no desire to join such a stuck-in-the-mud group of people. And I told them why in a very long, detailed letter (which I’ve yet to receive a reply to). In the letter I compared their approach to that of my local church, of which I am a committed and active member. I explained that if they had sought to engage and look after me in a similar way to my church, I would wholeheartedly want to add value and contribute to a similar degree to their Lodge. In addition to the social, spiritual fulfilment and fellowship I wished for, I explained to them that my lifetime financial value to their Lodge (which would include inviting friends of mine to join, donations and social expenditure) would amount to around £81,000. £81,000 lost! It reminded me of what happens to businesses that fail to care for their colleagues or wow their customers, ultimately they fail and the fall out can have devastating consequences for hundreds or thousands of employees, their families and communities.
We all know of circumstances when without fully knowing why, we’ve instantly felt or thought that someone is likeable, trustworthy, competent, dominant, nervous, warm, empathetic, dominant, polite, or otherwise. This is when non-verbal micro traits such as smiling, eye contact, open-handed gestures, fidgeting, posture and body orientation have been subconscious influencers.
In psychological terms, ‘thin slice’ methodology refers to observing small pieces of an interaction, usually less than 5 minutes, and accurately drawing conclusions in the emotions and attitudes of the people interacting.
Thin slice methodology has been researched and demonstrated in a variety of areas, but has achieved scientific notoriety in the study of first impressions, particularly around sexual orientation and compatibility, teacher ratings, sales people and trust, medical students and rapport, interviewers and job applicants, students and supervisors, and call-centre performance.
This methodology, often based on a few seconds of an interaction, has proven to be very accurate when compared to ratings based on the entire interaction. The very first moments of the interaction are the most relevant (Ambady et al, 2000). 5-second slices have been reported to be just as accurate as 5 minute clips (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1993).
Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s ‘career expert’ explains, ‘the problem with appearance is that it translates to perceived performance. Even if your boss doesn’t think that they’re thinking any less of you, they will subconsciously think it’.
In a series of experiments, Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, reveal that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face.
So, apart from anything else you commit to as part of a ‘New Year, New You’ resolution, please put your first foot forward to make an outstanding first impression with whoever and whenever you can. Not just when you meet someone new, but when you see your partner and kids first thing in the morning, when you greet your colleagues at work, when you communicate with your friends and social groups (virtually or in the flesh), or when you are out and about in your community. The proven dividends will add a positive spring to your 2018 step.