Help me improve my first impression on people
March 13, 2013 7:53 PM   Subscribe

I caught up with a good pal and sometime boss last night and I learned something new and interesting. She said on first meeting I can come off as distant, focused on the job and not in a warm way. Looking for tips on how to change this.

I gather what she meant was that I came across as aloof or something like that. She cited an example where a supervisor of mine had confided in her when I was interviewed for a job that I could clearly do the job on paper, but he wasn't sure we'd get along. At the end of the job he referred to me as the "wildcard" who he ended up getting along with the most (same sense of humour, style etc, he's a great guy). There were a couple of other examples as well that she brought up.

This was news to me. The truth is it takes me weeks or months to warm up to a new situation, new people. I am really quite anxious and intimidated when I meet people for the first time, so I concentrate very much on the job at hand. So I wasn't aware of how it came across to others, but I am definitely aware that I am very nervous (and I freelance so I often change job environments), but I thought I just came across as quiet, shy, but business-like.

In those situations where she's doing the hiring, she might have to reassure folk that I'm just warming up and then everything's fine. But in other situations I don't have her working as a "translator". I've been in my current job for the past four months, It's taken me a looong time to warm up, in fact in wasn't until this other freelance guy started a month ago who is so gregarious that I was disarmed and more comfortable being myself that I got officially warmed up. But I leave this job in a couple of weeks, so...

In social situations I generally avoid going to things on my own and tend to be a wallflower, although among friends I am very comfortable and generally a joker. I went to a conference recently and I knew a couple of people there but I was so anxious and stressed about being a loner for two of the three days I was there. But all this time I assumed I was either unnoticed or judged as shy, so the fact that I might come across as either aloof or cold is not entirely cool with me. My pal thinks I just need to be more socially confident, I am work confident enough!

What are some good tips for coming into a new situation like this? Both work or social situations are probably the same. How do you make a good first impression? I remember a particularly socially successful friend once said that she always makes sure she remembers everyone's names and uses them. How do you get over the nerves? I think my default tactic is to hide in my designated space and escape for meetings or tea breaks and that's probably my first problem!
posted by mooza to Human Relations (8 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I often feel the same way... I'm not particularly shy (at least not in the way that meeting relatively low-stakes new people makes me nervous), I'm just pretty quiet and tend to get lost in my own head, plus my default/relaxed face is just slightly upset looking to some people... charming, I know. Just making a conscious effort to be more socially "out there" is what I've been doing. Smile. Make eye contact. Those kinds of things.

It's really against my natural tendencies, but I try and make small talk. Ask if they've seen any good movies or read any good books recently. Ask for a restaurant recommendation. People like thinking their opinions are valued by you. Following up on these is even better -- "Hey, I tried that Indian place you suggested last week. It was great!" etc. Rehearse in your head if it makes you feel better.

Your friend's suggestion to remember names is a good one - people like hearing their name, and that you remember it is sort of a "you're important enough to me to commit to memory" cue, which people also like. Try it with everyone - acquaintances, bartenders, waiters, etc., especially if you see them repeatedly, like the baristas at a favorite coffeeshop. The practice is good and I have to say it's helped me get some free drinks or other goodies for regulars.

Remember also that the worst case scenario for meeting new people is usually not that bad. Interviews, meeting parents of significant others, etc. is kind of a different case, but just meeting team members or the like is relatively low-stakes. Sure, you want to not come across as a total jerk, but as long as you're getting neutral & up, there's nothing to be that worried about.
posted by jorlyfish at 8:23 PM on March 13, 2013

I'm an introvert, I can quickly get tired with lots of social interaction. But my current job requires lots of it, often with new people.

This is what I've been focusing on when I feel anxious with new folks:

Accept that some people will just not click with me or vice versa, that's okay.

People are just people- we're all working with the same basic components.

Share something about myself. People feel more assured, even if I come off as a bore or just a weirdo. Its better to put something out there, rather than seem indifferent towards them-- or worse. They fear the unknown.

It's easier to relate to strangers/acquaintances when I feel happy and more energetic. I do way better and feel more open when I exercise regularly, get enough sleep, am wearing clothes I am comfortable in, etc.

This is one of those fake it until you make it scenarios. The fear is irrational, picture your more authentic self in these new situations. Use the framework of the rapport you have established in the past as a reference.

Not that you should feel like you acting, but in each scenario you are playing a role- what is your function in any situation? At the conference, why were you worried about being a loner, why did you think no one would notice you? It's often better to be solo when networking and you were presumably surrounded by others who share your interests. . .

I suggest, when you begin to feel insecure- acknowledge it, then recall a time/person/event that makes you feel more secure and procede from there. Repeat as necessary.

Oh and kill any negative thought loops asap.
posted by abirdinthehand at 9:11 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am also like this. When I was in college, people admitted later on in our acquaintance they they thought I was a snob / a cold person, and were pleasantly surprised to find out I'm very "funny and friendly".

I think it's my body language. Try to keep an "open" face, maybe have a slight (not demented) smile or at least pleasant expression on your face. I read an old book about how you should say the word "limb" to yourself, and it puts your muscles in the right position. Keep your eyes "warm". Don't cross your arms when talking to someone. When seated and your hands are in your lap, have them palm up, not palm down. Eye contact, definitely, but if it feels too intense, use the Triangle Method: you're free to shift your gaze within the area in the shape of inverted triangle, with points at each eye and somewhere above the nose. Sometimes I just focus on their glabella. Just don't look at their mouth, because it signals something else. If someone cracks a joke, at least grin.

There are a few more methods I came across in a Leil Lowndes book, but I can't remember which one. It might have been How To Talk To Anyone, but she has a lot of other books that rehash the same tips. Good stuff, like pretending the person you are talking to is an adorable toddler, because then something just shifts in your demeanor. Or imagine that the new person is an old friend. Try to mentally recast people from "stranger" to "potential buddy".

Don't worry about coming across as too forward. As long as you aren't ogling any breasts, and you're at least an arm's length of distance away (maybe two?), you should be fine. Good luck! Just practice. At first it feels weird, then it starts to sink in. In my case it's easy for me now to go into "Receptionist / Flight Attendant Barbie Mode". (Afterwards, I'm like the doll in Toy Story: "Are they gone? Can I stop smiling now? God, my cheeks hurt.") Find a similar person/persona you can be for a few minutes, to make it fun.
posted by pimli at 10:20 PM on March 13, 2013

It's one person's opinion. Don't give it too much importance.
posted by zadcat at 12:02 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am also shy/anxious and used to be a wallflower, but I like socialising and so have tried to develop ways of getting talking to people without waiting for them to approach me. One thing I've learned, hiding will never work if your desired end result is to make connections with new people.

This is what's worked for me:

Accept that you won't click with everyone. This is important and not a failing on your part!

Go into the situation assuming the best: that you are great, and that people want to meet you.

Smile, and smile first - don't wait.

Have some 'stock' questions that aren't too boring to answer. "I can see we're both friends with Tom. How do you know Tom?" is always a good icebreaker for social situations because then you can lead into some good Tom-specific banter. "So what do you do?" is another one, because again, you can use that as a jumping point for further conversation.

Really engage with the person. Don't check your phone, look over their shoulder, or any other indications that you don't want to talk to them. When they ask you a question, don't just say 'yes' or 'no' - that just kills a conversation flat - lead onto something that you can bounce back to them.

This is a bit of a YMMV but I have certain stock anecdotes that I tell if I can fit them organically into the conversation. They are about standard things that most people can empathise with - work, holidays, etc. I think it's useful to have one or two funny or interesting stories about yourself or people you know, that listeners can empathise with. I remember meeting a girl at a party who told me about her friend's EPIC rodent infestation problem. (Don't shoehorn your stories in awkwardly, but if they're about topics that come up often, then you can feel confident that you have something concrete to contribute to the conversation.)

Last month I went to a get together where the ONE person I knew showed up an hour after me, which meant that for an hour I was sat there among strangers. I know, nightmare, right? But using the above approach I was actually able to genuinely enjoy myself, and met some really nice people.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:03 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might be interested in The Charisma Myth, which despite its title tells you how to increase your charisma.
posted by ceiba at 7:52 AM on March 14, 2013

I hate to have to say this, but are you a woman? If so, there are different expectations as to how friendly you're supposed to be, and different tactics on how to meet them.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:28 AM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am female, yes.
posted by mooza at 3:05 PM on March 14, 2013

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