Can You Overcome a Bad First Impression?

Whether you agree or disagree with the validity of basing an opinion of a person on his or her first impression doesn’t change the fact that most people do hold that first impression as a main factor in forming their opinions of people they meet. In other words, it may suck that first impressions are important, but they are.

It happens in any setting in which you can meet someone new—social, interviewing, workplace, and academic. Multiple studies show the human brain is wired to make snap judgments about others—a prehistoric survival mechanism. They also show that it happens in as little as 7 seconds in some cases.

You can, however, use a few nonverbal techniques, which will assist you in making a good first impression. These include:

  • Smile
  • A good handshake
  • Good posture
  • Eye contact
  • Avoid negative facial expressions
  • Dress appropriate for the occasion

If you decide you want to attempt to overcome a negative first impression someone has of you, here are a few things that will help you be more successful.


How to Overcome a Bad First Impression

  • Get it out in the open. Never assume someone has a bad impression of you. Be sure before you begin trying to change an impression that person may not have. You can ask them (the best approach) or find out from your or their closest friends. Those are the people who would most likely be privy to that person’s opinion of you. If you ask them, make the question about how you feel so it’s not an offensive question. For example, “I feel like I made a bad impression on you, maybe even offended you, and if that is the case, I feel awful about it. Is my assessment correct?”
  • Apologize if necessary. Once you know you made a bad impression, apologize for it. You don’t need to continue to apologize again and again, but taking responsibility and apologizing once shows strong character.
  • Consistency. One of the best ways to overcome a negative impression of you is to consistently display behavior of the opposite nature. If someone thinks you are dishonest, then consistently display honesty. If someone thinks you are lazy, consistently display a work ethic. If someone thinks you are mean, consistently display kindness. The consistency is what wears away that first impression like a sculpture chisels away at a piece of marble a bit at a time to eventually have a completely different shaped object.
  • Be authentic. Be yourself. If you didn’t do anything wrong, and someone doesn’t have a good impression of you because they are overly judgmental, then don’t worry about their opinion. If your negative impression was caused by something you did or didn’t do, you can make up for it, but you still need to be yourself. Don’t try to display characteristics that aren’t yours just to win favor with someone who wouldn’t like you for who you really are.
  • Evidence to the contrary. It never hurts to have facts on your side. 3rd party endorsements are one of the strongest game changers. If enough other people tell someone of a quality you possess, that person is much more likely to let go of his or her own opinion that you don’t have said quality in light of all of the other people saying you do. The evidence would seemingly support that you do have that quality. It also helps for the person whose opinion you are trying to change witnesses you taking action in the impression you are trying to make. If you want someone to believe you are not selfish, it would help if they witnessed you helping others without personal gain.

To see some factors that affect the likelihood of whether an impression can be changed, click here.


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