We make snap decisions based on a single interaction. A smile, a glint in the eye can be infectious. Someone holding the door open or handing you the quarter you inadvertently dropped. The small moment of generosity is a gift that keeps giving. On the flip side, something as insignificant as a doctor spending three less minutes with a patient and not asking any questions…or listening to the response, can increase the chances of that doctor being sued for malpractice. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he says, “What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly.” Think of that! There was no appreciable difference in the quality of the care, just a difference in the behavior of the doctor.
Nowhere do these snap decisions have a bigger impact than a job interview. In my years of recruiting as a restaurant owner and as a Human Resource professional, I have seen the entire gambit. I’ve had candidates come in to the interview with a toddler and infant in tow. Applicants who fill out the application with just their name and the box that asks what position they are applying for is filled in with “Any”. Then there are waiters who look terrified and never crack a smile. Or recent college grads with their collar and necktie so tight, I thought their head might pop. Special moments like an interviewee who hugged the hiring manager. All these things matter when the decision to have a candidate continue on in the process comes down to the first few seconds of the interview. Most screening interviews (which is what a Human Resource professional is usually doing) can last less than 15 minutes. If you want to move on in the process, you better shine. You can think you will overcome the tight collar, the lack of a smile. But you can’t. I’ve already made a decision, consciously or not, to move on.
So how do we connect with folks and make the best impression? Here are some ideas:
1. Smile. Perception is reality and if you smile, you will be more approachable. This was a painful revelation last year when I took a presenting skills class through Dale Carnegie and my insightful instructor, Jackie Kellso, went over the video tape of my first presentation. I never smiled. I looked angry. I didn’t want to listen to the woman in the video tape (and it was me). By the last video, I was smiling and what a difference it made. It is so much more engaging. Approachable. I want to be around people who smile. You want to be around people who smile. Let’s all smile. And often.
2. Contact. Make eye contact. When I interviewed for a spot at the Cornell Hotel School, I made eye contact with the recruiter and never broke it until he did. Eye contact means you are engaged. It means you are paying attention. This also means you can’t look at your phone or your watch or out the window. Keeping eye contact keeps the other person engaged as well. You can bet that the doctors who were sued for malpractice didn’t make eye contact. They were probably staring at the medical chart. Stay connected by making eye contact. People find it flattering as well.
3. Laugh. Laughter equals joy. I’m not talking about self-deprecating laughter or sarcasm; I’m talking pure laughter without rolling the bus over someone at their expense. I try to find the joy in others: My son doing a Nathan Lane impression, the crazy faces/noises my daughter makes and my dog chasing a squirrel she has no intention of actually catching. Find the joy. The laughter. Who would you rather be around, someone with no sense of humor or someone who can find the joy, even over spilled milk. Laugh.
4. Ratio. Have a five-to-one positive-to-negative ratio in your interactions. John Gottman, the marriage guru, studied over 700 couples. Those couples who dropped below the five-to-one ratio in a 15 minute conversation, predicted a subsequent divorce with a high level of accuracy (81% to 94%). So it’s not just about being positive, it’s about how often you are positive versus negative. So if you tell your spouse, thanks for doing the dishes and then go on a diatribe about all the unfinished chores…no dice. Maintain the ratio with those around you.
5. Body. Look at your body language. Shoulders back. Head erect. Along with feeling more confident, you will sending out a positive impression. I can remember in a class I took that the instructor told us to slump our shoulders, look at the floor and say “I feel great today”. I didn’t feel great when my body language was speaking volumes of the opposite. When asked to do the flip and sit erect and shoulders back and say “I feel lousy today”. My words didn’t not resonate because my body was speaking confidence. What is your body saying in that project proposal, the job interview or on that first date? Pay attention to your body.
6. Connect. If possible, physically connect. A good friend of mine, Susan Passino, was a server with me when I worked at the San Francisco Airport (MANY years ago). She always told me to touch customers on the back of the shoulder if possible. Connecting with someone physically, whether a handshake or a light tap on their shoulder or arm is powerful. Suddenly you are not anonymous. You are connecting on a different level. If you are shaking someone’s hand, be sure to make sure you have been holding a warm beverage in it before. Studies have shown that cold beverages lead to cold hands and a “cold” impression. If it’s possible, try and physically connect.
It’s easy to look around an pick out those folks you don’t think give off a positive impression but everything really does start with you. Work on giving off that positive vibe yourself. Be the light that shines out on everyone else.