Why First Impressions Aren’t Nearly as Important as We Think

First impressions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And that’s the truth.

First Impressions
Photo credit: Chiyo Takaaki (Creative Commons)

When I met my wife, I was more interested in dating her roommate. As we became friends, I began to notice her and soon realized what a catch she was. After that, it was a no-brainer to chase her down to Tennessee and marry that girl. But coming to this realization took time.

Truth is I can’t remember the first time Ashley and I met. But I do remember the hundred excuses I came up with to see her once I started liking her. It took both of us awhile before we started dating.

You see, it’s not the first impression that matters, but the fifth. The one after the few awkward exchanges at the beginning — that’s where real relationship happens.

Keep showing up

Few people practice this better than Seth Barnes. He doesn’t place a lot of weight on one-time meetings and personal charisma. He’s more of a long-distance guy than a relational sprinter.

In other words, he just keeps showing up in people’s lives. An email here, a phone call there. Gradually, over time, he earns your trust.

This is how he got me to come work for him — not because of any particular conversation that moved me, but by continually coming into my life at key moments. Pretty soon, I believed in him and wanted to serve his vision.

Where transformation happens

In our culture, we place a lot of unnecessary pressure on first impressions — job interviews and first days at school and first-time visits to churches.

But the truth is transformation happens long after introductions have been made. It’s when you’ve learned each other’s names and remembered a person’s hometown. That’s when you start making an impression.

Any good marketer knows this. The first time you encounter a message, you’re likely to forget it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sports car, migraine medicine, or a brand-new book. As long as it’s new, it’s not memorable.

But somewhere after the fourth time you see it is when the words and images begin to resonate. Until then, you’re still a stranger.

Three steps to gaining more influence

So if you have a message to share, a brand to promote, or good news to tell, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Show up. Get involved in a person’s life. Don’t place too much emphasis on the first impression, but make it a point to be there. This could be a party, an advertisement, or a face-to-face meeting.
  2. Earn permission. Think of it like dating. Whether you’re at a networking event, a job interview, or starting a new blog, you need to ask for a second (and third and fourth) chance to prove yourself. Make this explicit.
  3. Pay attention. It’s not just enough to show up in someone’s life (although that’s important). You also have to notice things like the person’s favorite flavor of ice cream and the type of car she drives. If you want to make a meaningful impression, you have to listen.

Do this with as many people as possible until you run out of time and energy. Give particular weight to the relationships you’ve been developing, and find ways to take them deeper.

When you do this, people notice. It matters to them, even if they don’t say so. What’s more, I know of no other way to make a difference in a person’s life. So what are you waiting for? Time to start caring.

What do you think? Do first impressions matter? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Chiyo Takaaki (Creative Commons)