First Impressions in 2 Seconds

Try typing “First Impression” into Google and see how fast the response comes after hitting the enter key. I will save you the trouble. My search was received in .021 seconds. Just that quick.

Your mind works almost as fast as Google. The first image of your conversational partner will be cemented within two to three seconds. If you are the client, it is difficult but not impossible to overcome that first three seconds. As quick as you can clap your hands in front of your face, bang, the decision of likeability or distaste is cast like an etching in granite. You had better hope it is not a tombstone.

In first impressions, you get one. There are no second or third impressions. You may have an opportunity to counter a first bad impression, but it might be easier to climb the north face of Mt Kilimanjaro.

Nalini Ambady, professor of psychology at Tufts University, has conducted a great deal of research into first impressions. She is probably one of the foremost experts in the field. In a 1993 study with Robert Rosenthal, Professor Ambady determined how quickly we could assess someone on the first impression.
The researchers used video clips of thirteen teachers in ten second segments. The teachers were rated on different factors including empathy, likeable, dominant, confidence and others. At the end of the semester, the same teachers were rated by their students on the same criteria. There was a significant correlation between the semester long judgments versus those exposed to the ten second video clips. Then they shortened the clips to five seconds and finally to two seconds. Unbelievably, there was still a significant correlation with the end of the semester ratings. What this extraordinary study revealed was that people exposed to a person for a mere two seconds, did not differ significantly from those exposed to the person for an entire semester.

First Impression Factors:

Appearance – It does matter. Your grooming, hygiene, and what you are wearing all matters. Seek the input from a valued friend, which does not include your spouse.

Entry – Stride with confidence.  Act like you own the place. Jurors have found that those that project confidence are 70% more likely to be believed.

Smile – Avoid looking like the rodeo clown with a smile painted on your face. Flash the smile when you are introduced. The smile is the most easily recognized facial gesture and it is usually reciprocated. Brain scans show the happy places of the brain light up with a smile.

Eyes – Keep your attention on the focus of your conversation seventy percent of the time. The eyes should be trained on the facial region and you are displaying a genuine interest in your partner.

Handshake – Squeeze and release. The shake should be firm, but mirror the recipient. Avoid the crushing grip or the three-week-old wilting rose grip. None of this pulling or rolling the hand business either. Two pumps up and down.

Proxemics- Don’t crowd. After the shake, take a step back and allow the person to set his or her own personal bubble.

Body language and nonverbal behavior – too deep of a subject to adequately cover in this post. There are many good books on the subject. Keep your belly button and toes pointed towards the interest of your conversation.

You may not be accepting an Oscar at the Academy Awards, but first impressions are the entry into establishing rapport and deepening our relationships with others. Those first two seconds are crucial for the first impression.

For more tips on first impressions and developing rapport, take a look at FACE 2 FACE : Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide


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5 Responses to First Impressions in 2 Seconds

  1. Andrea says:

    It’s amazing how fast that first impression happens. In my own experience, a person is more likely to make a good first impression and then blow it, than to make a poor first impression and then improve on it. That damp dishrag handshake is ALWAYS a poor impression!


    • mike says:

      Andrea, You are correct that people will often tarnish the 1st impression with self inflicted wounds. It is so important to focus on the consistant follow-through for the entire process. Rapport building does not end after the first 2 seconds. It continues through the goodbye handshake and follow-up interactions. Cheers, Mike

  2. Pedro COMPETENTOBS says:

    Very good article Mike!! Rosenthal & Nalini study conclusions are interesting

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