Help me make better day-to-day impression with the small things
February 3, 2013 2:30 PM   Subscribe

So this last week I've started realizing I care more about my... appearance? Demeanor? Presentation? Than I have in the past. I suddenly have motivation to kind of get my act together and act like a grown-up, I guess. What do you do, or see people do, that makes that impression on you?

Part of it is for dating and part is for being more respectable-seeming, but mostly it's kind of for my own self-respect. I'm typically mostly focused on being true to mine own self, and now this seems to be the latest phase in that, so I'm not doing it for anyone else.

Anyway, part of the problem here is that since I've never really paid much attention to this front, I figure there may be dozens of obvious things (to others) I'm missing. Here's a little sampling of things I've noticed myself trying to do more or better, or that I suddenly care about wanting to improve.

-Using hair stuff to make sure my hair doesn't stick up at random times during the day like normal.
-Improving my handwriting at least slightly.
-Wearing clothes that people who "get" clothes would think, "hey, that looks pretty good on you!" about
-Calling people older than me "sir" or "ma'am," I've been thinking about a lot.
-Not saying "like" in a non-comparative way

Can you think of anything that might go in that list? (Oh, I'm male, and in my late 20's. But obviously is appreciate the male or female perspective.) I mean, I'm not a slob and I consider myself pretty polite-- I hold doors open for people, I was raised with a healthy dose of "Midwest Nice." And not so much good life advice like start saving ASAP, appreciate the small stuff in life, etc. I already try to do that-- I'm specifically trying to make better impressions on people I guess. But you know. Anything like that. Thanks!
posted by dubadubowbow to Human Relations (34 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
Overall grooming and presentation (hygiene and attire) goes a long way. I did a teeny tiny upgrade of my wardrobe a few years ago - not so much that I felt like I was faking, but enough that I noticed a difference. I asked friends who cared/knew about fashion and learned just enough to upgrade myself.

Take an improv class. Fun and you learn a lot about how you come off. I keep recommending this, and people keep telling me it was great advice. So there you go.

Finally, and I wish this book had a different title, but oh well. Read "How To Make Friends and Influence People". It's old, it has a cheesy title, but for me it's been fantastically useful.
posted by jragon at 2:34 PM on February 3, 2013

Best answer: Improve your posture, anything you wear will look better when you're standing/sitting correctly.
posted by The Whelk at 2:35 PM on February 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Pay attention to your fingernails.
posted by salvia at 2:36 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: -Calling people older than me "sir" or "ma'am," I've been thinking about a lot.

I never see people do this. Maybe older people -- like a lot older -- would appreciate this. But I think anyone I know would find it overly formal.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:36 PM on February 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm probably in that age bracket where you might feel it's courteous to call me "ma'am." I would feel less like you were trying to be respectful and more like "OMG, I'm old!" I live in the Bay Area and things might be different in more conservative parts of the country, but "sir" and "ma'am" are used by service people, not in ordinary conversation.

Other than that: Get a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior and do as Miss Manners advises. Pay attention to your personal hygiene and grooming. Carry a pocket toothbrush and floss with you and brush your teeth after you eat so you don't breathe garlic breath over everything. Sit and stand up straight. Cultivate a firm handshake - the notorious "limp dead fish" hand is off-putting to many. Never make funny mouth noises or slurp your food/drink.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:51 PM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Say thank you. Say it genuinely, say it a lot, say it in various ways (I appreciate that, thank you so much, etc). I know you mentioned "Midwest Nice" goes a long way.
posted by HermitDog at 2:52 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

-Calling people older than me "sir" or "ma'am," I've been thinking about a lot.

I think this may depend on where you live. I live in a small town in the deep South, and do call people who are a generation or two older than I am 'ma'am' or 'sir', and feel I'd be out of place not to. If I were to go to a larger city, say Birmingham, I probably wouldn't feel that need. If I were you, I'd just start out by trying this:

Other person: "Is that meal okay?"
You: "Yeah, sure, its fine."...

Flip that to:
Other person: "Is that meal okay?"
You: "Yes, its fine/good/great"...

Just use more careful diction is all I mean. If you don't already, use 'yes' for 'yeah' and 'what' instead of 'huh'. Being overly formal can trip you up and make people feel out of place with you. I agree with the other two suggestions regarding your posture and nails. Raggedy, dirty nails are a turn off, male or female. Also, make sure to make eye contact a little bit when talking to people if you don't do it already. (I struggle with this, and have to work on it consciously.)

I agree about the handwriting, too. Another person will appreciate not having to ask you to translate what you've written to them. Look into Italic handwriting, maybe. It sounds formal, but it isn't, and produces nice results.
posted by wolfgirl at 2:55 PM on February 3, 2013

Have grown-up things: a good bag, nice watch, quality shoes, etc.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:10 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have your pants hemmed correctly. Iron your shirts, and tuck them in. Stop wearing clothes that blatantly advertise a brand. Get a haircut regularly. Fidget less. Stand up straight. Look people in the eye. Don't gossip.
posted by mkultra at 3:17 PM on February 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

Look people in the eye, enunciate clearly, and state exactly what you want.

On the clothes front, it is more important to wear clothes that fit than for them to be particularly stylish or expensive.

Also, grown up shoes. Save the sneakers/tennies for when you are actually engaging in athletic activities.
posted by deanc at 3:33 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Be punctual.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:34 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I suddenly have motivation to kind of get my act together and act like a grown-up, I guess. What do you do, or see people do, that makes that impression on you?

People who impress me, and leave me feeling that they truly get the whole being-an-adult thing, do that by being good at what they do. Courtesy is good too, as long as it doesn't cross the line into fawning.

If I'm watching somebody teach, I'm impressed by an ability to maintain a positive and receptive atmosphere in the classroom. If I'm listening to somebody play music, I'm impressed when what I'm hearing gives me chills. If I'm watching somebody control a fire incident, I'm impressed when the people they're coordinating act like they have a clear understanding of what needs to be done next. If I'm working with a manager, I'm impressed if I feel well shielded from Marketing's mad idea of the week and the usual rain of bullshit from C level.

I am so not impressed by grooming and personal decoration. Hygiene and bodily self-control, sure - it's polite to try not to stink up somebody else's personal space*, and it's nice to see people looking after their spines - but hair gel makes me sad. If you look as if it's taken you half an hour to tizz yourself up before walking out your front door, my instant reaction will be "What is this person trying to sell me?" before you've said a word.

Get competent! Get trained! Get capable! Get over cute!

Adults, as I see it, are people who are comfortable in their own skins, are polite to one another, care about the quality of their work, take responsibility for their own mistakes and have enough life experience to avoid letting first impressions be lasting impressions.

*If you absolutely must stink up my personal space, I would far prefer that you did that by smelling like an energetic human being than by leaving a lasting snail trail of hideous industrial scent clinging to my own hair, clothes and furnishings. Body sprays should be banned under the Geneva conventions on chemical warfare. Thank you.
posted by flabdablet at 3:36 PM on February 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

posted by payoto at 3:39 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're walking with a woman, open the door and let her go into/out of a room first. On the elevator, allow all women to exit first when the door opens (unless it's a full elevator and you're nearest the door).
posted by barnoley at 3:49 PM on February 3, 2013

Best answer: Choose your words carefully. If you don't know what to say, 99% of the time you don't need to say anything -- so DON'T.

If you don't know what to say and the situation requires that you say something (it's usually clear. . .) say, "I don't know what to say!" It's honest and it will usually propel the moment in whichever way it needs to go.

Don't run your mouth because you are nervous or you want to fill the silence or you are uncomfortable. This is the secret to precision in speech, which is universally impressive.
posted by andhowever at 3:55 PM on February 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Look people in the eye.
If you wear sunglasses, take them off when you are speaking to someone.
posted by Catch at 4:23 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Be pleasant, be courteous, be kind. And don't wear stinky cologne or body spray. Thanks!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:27 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Put that pen down if you can't quit fiddling with it.

Going back to "sir/ma'am," there are two main circumstances in which staff in my Southern based office use sir/ma'am. The first is when talking to those whom they're not yet comfortable calling "Joe" but for whom "Mr Jones" won't go with the overall casual interactions of the office- a bright and chipper "good morning, sir!" or "thank you, ma'am!" The second is to differentiate casual and business conversations when talking to senior staff whom they usually do call by first name.
posted by beaning at 5:33 PM on February 3, 2013

Best answer: This book will help. A lot.

If your hair goes wild during the day then work with a good stylist to get just enough of a tussled 'do so it looks on purpose.

I grew up in the performing arts I can tell with absolute certainty that what you wear affects how you act. On stage, we call them costumes, everywhere else we just call them clothes. For example when I put on a tuxedo I changed, unconsciously, how I behaved. It isn't pretentious, it is just how the brain is wired, don't ask me why.

So dress the way you want to act and you will act the way you dress, at least to the highest degree your brain can manage with the knowledge it has (see other advice above).
posted by trinity8-director at 6:22 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Treat all waitstaff and people in positions of service with the utmost respect, civility, and kindness. Tip well when you can and when it's deserved. Really listen during conversations and make a point to say very little about yourself unless asked to divulge more. Be able to laugh at yourself. Don't laugh at others and don't make others the butt of your jokes. Read often. Brush your teeth and go light on cologne. Above all else, just be kind whenever possible.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:17 PM on February 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Punctuality is huge, and is a subset of reliability. People who keep their word, without anyone needing to remind them, seem far more mature than those who don't.
posted by brainwane at 7:59 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One thing I have learned (that seems to work) is not to feel defensive if I don't know the answer to something or if someone questions a decision I made. Now instead of making something up to make it appear that I'm on top of everything, I just smile (maybe a wry smile) and say, confidently, "Gosh, I don't know. Let me see what I can do to find out." Then I take notes about the issue and then--key--I follow up and find out, or if I can't, I'll document my efforts and say, "I did X, Y, and Z and nobody seems to have a good answer. Can you think of anything I've overlooked?" If somebody comes to me with something that didn't work the way it was supposed it, I will (as appropriate to the situation), look through my work again and see if I can spot where the thing went wrong and see if I can figure out why. Then I'll go back to that person and explain what happened and what I will do (or, in some cases, what they can do) to make sure it isn't repeated.

This isn't exactly deportment advice, but a couple of tips I pass along from the trenches.

Deportment wise: Be clean, be combed, be not shiny of skin, groom your nails, facial hair and eyebrows, wear clothes that fit and are ironed, stand up straight, look people in the eye, smile, and be gracious.
posted by elizeh at 8:09 PM on February 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

And by the way, there is no reason to turn into a corporate dronebot, clothes-wise. Stick to the dress code, whatever it is, but you can do all of these things with a nose ring and purple hair (if that's the kind of place you work) as you can in a pantsuit and a sensible french twist.
posted by elizeh at 8:15 PM on February 3, 2013

Best answer: Shoes polished. Nails clipped and clean. Shirts pressed and tucked in. Pants pressed or ironed. Face hairs, if not shaven, neatly groomed. Look people in the eye when speaking with them. Drink your beer out of a glass or drink bourbon, but give up on using a can or bottle. Be a man of your word. When you make an appointment, keep it and be on Lombardi time. Call ahead to confirm appointments. Don't use your smart phone when interacting with family and friends in person. When communicating with people, use the phone part of your smart phone, not texting. Don't slouch. Write hand written notes to people. Learn and know basic skills like cpr.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:48 PM on February 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sorry I can't add much, but I just wanted to say that improving your handwriting is a GREAT idea. I've worked with so many professional men who've had kindergarten handwriting and it just feels so awkward. I myself could use better penmanship as well.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:30 PM on February 3, 2013

If you make a mistake, focus less on explaining why you made the mistake and more on making sure it doesn't happen again.

Thank people for gifts, mentoring and kindnesses. Get a little box of nice cards and keep them handy.

Invest in a good hair cut and keep a regular schedule for getting it cut.

Keep up with current events, so you know what is happening in the world and can have conversations about it. I have an app for my local newspaper on my phone and read the articles during breaks or at bedtime.

Avoid using your phone for texting when you are on a date or in a meeting. I flip my phone over so it is clear I'm not looking at it.

Wear the right socks for the right shoe. My husband's best man showed up to our wedding in a tux and white tube socks! Good grief!
posted by dottiechang at 10:32 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

People who impress me, and leave me feeling that they truly get the whole being-an-adult thing, do that by being good at what they do.

Playing off your examples, it just so happens that I can could among people I know teachers, managers, and musicians (no firefighters, though). The number of times I have seen them actually teaching, managing, or performing is exactly zero times. I mean, I am sure they are good at what they do, but I simply have to take their word for it, and my impression of them comes only from how much I enjoy speaking with them and spending time with them and how much they reflect "grownup behaviors." When it comes to your professional life , be competent so that your life does not become a lurching of crisis to crisis about your employment. Live well within your means so that you have money left over to go out with friends, travel, and pick up the drink tab every now and then.

Here are some other tips: learn to be a good host. This can involve knowing how to throw a good house party, sure, but it is also about how to ensure people enjoy themselves when you have them over for dinner or invite friends to a restaurant. Learn what kind of restaurants are worth the money vs. mediocre and overpriced. Learn what "good food" is so that when you invite people to an outing, they will enjoy the experience. Cultivate good friends so that your social gatherings leave people with the impression of, "wow. I really enjoyed that. dubadubowbow knows some really interesting people!" When your friends socialize with each other, let them do so without sucking all the air out of the room yourself.
posted by deanc at 5:44 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Meaningful follow-up. When I meet people for the first time, tell them something like I'm starting to take martial arts lessons, and they ask how the lessons are going the next time we run into each other, it makes a very positive impression on me. Similarly, I remember a friend talking about how a new colleague had texted her over the weekend to ask how her move to a new apartment was going and that made a great impression on her.
posted by kat518 at 7:01 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

This post from the men's style blog Put This On is the best and simplest advice for dressing better. You don't need a lot of clothes; you just need good-quality, well-fitting basics.
posted by wolfnote at 9:18 AM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Great practical advice here on the basics of grooming. One other thing: be sure to keep the corners of your mouth clean. I am always surprised when I see people, often young men, who don't do this. Make it a habit to wipe your mouth often, especially if you have a cold or it feels dry.

One confidence-building tip I was given years ago really helps in most situations: remember that the person you are meeting WANTS you to be the one to fulfill their fantasies/solve their problems/brighten their day. The girl wants to like you, the interviewer hopes you will be the right fit for the job, your lunch partner really wants to have a fun and interesting conversation with you. If you give a little thought to what you can do to make sure they have that positive experience, it's hard to go wrong.
posted by rpfields at 11:02 AM on February 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in my late twenties, and one thing that has been striking me as very "adult" among my peers is when they take ownership of something, be it an idea or a project or a passion. Maybe it's a reflection of being past "ironic" anything; vintage clothing, mustaches, etc. etc. Houses or kids tend to do this to people automatically, but I've seen it in others with respect to jobs, pet projects, causes, etc. It's refreshing.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

What always comes across as "grown up" to me is a sort of quiet confidence. Not the cockiness or "please, please like me!" stuff that a lot of folks in their teens and 20s do. Just being calm and collected and doing your thing without overapologizing or trying to impress people with your expensive clothes or extensive vocabulary (and knowing yourself well enough to know what your thing is). Being polite and respectful of others regardless of whether they are the "right sort of people," you are attracted to them, or they can help you in some way, but just because they are fellow human beings. (I am a fat, not-very-attractive 40-something woman and I can't tell you the number of times someone has been rude or dismissive toward me and nice to people that are more attractive.) Wearing better clothes (grown up clothes, as opposed to T-shirts, ripped jeans, and athletic shoes) will help you come across better, but find your own style, find out what feels good to you, and find out what you look good in--this frequently has nothing to do with what's in fashion.

I'd also like to recommend this website, which has all kinds of good advice on how to go about making the transition to adulthood in lots of different areas of life.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:24 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

one thing that has been striking me as very "adult" among my peers is when they take ownership of something, be it an idea or a project or a passion

Seconding this. Again, knowing yourself, setting goals based on that knowledge, and working toward them; teenagers tend to sneer at everything so they can be cool in front of their friends, but adults have their interests and pursue them without worrying about what others think.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:27 PM on February 4, 2013

Response by poster: So these were all great answers, and just what I was looking for. Thanks! I marked a couple highly favorited ones as best answers, and some that I particularly liked, but really, this was a great list and I didn't think of a lot of it, so thanks.
posted by dubadubowbow at 1:58 AM on February 7, 2013

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