You never get a second chance, the saying goes, to make a first impression. It turns out you may
not even get that. Within 50 milliseconds of seeing someone’s face, you unconsciously make decisions that will influence your interactions.
Those 50 milliseconds are difficult to overcome, says University of Toronto psychology professor Nicholas Rule. “Every time you see someone, even if it’s someone you really know, you’re making that first impression again.”
You can influence a first impression by wearing glasses, which imply intelligence, or facial piercings, which suggest rebelliousness, but research shows that a face can retain the same characteristics no matter how it’s presented.
Older faces are more telling than young ones. After decades of frowning, for example, a senior’s muscles adopt an angrier baseline expression. So smile more-it won’t hurt in the short term either.
Yet another benefit of looking young: Leslie Zebrowitz, of Brandeis University in Massachusetts, has concluded that “babyfaceness” correlates to the likelihood of winning a court case.
What happens after the first 50 milliseconds? A firm handshake is important, but don’t discount vulnerability and humility, which will encourage authentic interaction.
Be conscious of body language. Don’t cross your arms, don’t slouch or fidget, and maintain eye contact and nod to indicate you’re paying attention.
“The best way to know what sort of first impression you’re making is to ask someone you trust,” Rule says, explaining that for all the time we spend assessing others, we’re poor judges of ourselves.
Ditch digital for the real thing. According to a trio of 2014 University of British Columbia studies, we make better first impressions face to face than through pictures
Stop tweaking that Facebook profile. “Online, people try to do a lot of impression management,” Rule says, but it might not have the hoped-for effect. You might fixate on an aspect of your online presence deemed unimportant by others.
First impressions have an evolutionary basis: early humans needed to quickly detect whether a person might deceive them or make for a suitable mate.
If you’re doing the judging, listen to your gut. Studies maintain that people can correctly determine a CEO’s profitability and even a person’s sexual orientation from a glimpse of their face.
While helpful, intuition can indulge biases and stereotypes. A McGill-educated employer might be inclined to choose a McGill grad over more qualified alumni from another university. The same goes for race and social class.