6 Ways to Make the Best Impression. It Might Even Keep You From Being Sued.

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.Making the Best Impression

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.

6 Ways to Boost How You Are Perceived

If you have ever worked in the customer service side of business, you soon realize that perception is reality.  My years in the restaurant and insurance industry have shown me that what the server or agent intended to convey is frequently not what was perceived by the customer.  Someone being rude is truly in the eyes of the beholder. Your rude” and “my rude” may be on two opposing ends of the spectrum; especially if I’m 70 and you are 18.  Or if I’m from Saudi Arabia and you are from Canada.  We are all walking around with our own frame of reference.

As a restaurant manager, I had to bring it to the attention of the teenaged server that even if she hadn’t slammed the plates on the table, the customer perceived that she had.  That crossing her arms and glaring at the customer could be perceived as rude.  Intended or not, it’s what the customer felt and noticed, from their point of view.

How many times has your child, coworker or spouse told you that, “So and so yelled at me”? Do your really think they yelled? I think of yelling as a raised voice;  like being at a football game and yelling, “Go Gators”.  I find that in normal everyday living (outside of sporting events)  most people don’t yell. When we are on the defensive, feel attacked or are being criticized, suddenly we are being yelled at. Our perception morphed.

Here are some steps to make sure you are keeping your perception in check:

1. Language. Check your body language.  Are your arms crossed? Scowl on your face? Hands on your hips?  Limp handshake? These can erode the authenticity of your message. Whether defensive or offensive your body is speaking for you.  Eye contact, slight smile and open arms and hands can generate trust.  Pay attention to what your body is saying.

2. Erasers.  When you use but, however and although while speaking with someone, you have erased the prior connection.  “I love your dress but those shoes are too big.” You have forced the recipient to think about the shoes and the dress compliment is lost.  “Nice job on the data analysis, however, it was two days late.”  Your assistant is now demoralized.  You are now being perceived as negative and insincere.  Watch your erasers.

3. Volume.  Keep tabs on the volume you are using when you speak.  This is an issue I struggle with.  I can come across as overbearing if I don’t keep it in check.  Men in particular need to be careful as deeper voices tend to carry regardless of the volume.  Mumbling can come across as having a lack of confidence or that you are hiding something.  Modulate and speak clearly.

4. Audible.  These are the noises that emanate that may be perceived but not the way you intended.  Huff.  Puff. Gasp.  Sigh.  Sometimes it can be involuntary.  Is it a sigh of exasperation or sigh of relief?  That is in the eye of the beholder.  You might want to check your audibles.

5. Fonts.  Every so often, I get an email message from someone in all caps.  Why is this person yelling at me?  Or I get an email with half the message bolded and underlined.  I’m pretty sure that the sender doesn’t realize (most of the time) how it appears to the recipient.  But I can tell you how I perceive it.  You are either yelling at me, talking down to me, don’t know the first thing about writing or you have zero typing skills.  Point being, there is no positive spin.  Watch your fonts.

6. Dress.  Think about how you dress.  A study from Gille and Mittag, showed that the more provocative you dress, the more observers will describe you as less intelligent.  If you have a big presentation, job interview or critical meeting, dress more conservatively and cover up your skin.  I’m not suggesting a burka, but a suit with long sleeves will have an impact on perception.  You will be perceived as more intelligent.  Boost your reputation.

What do you do to influence perception?