Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

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)

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Great post, Jeff. Unfortunately, first impressions are a big deal to society, especially in situations like job interviews, first days, etc. I don’t think that first impressions should be that big of a deal because how much can you really tell about a person the first time you meet them? I think it’s a rather closed-minded approach.

    Personally, there are many people in my life that I wrote off after first meeting them, but I am now very close with some of them. It turns out that they’re great people. If you go by first impressions alone, you’re sure to miss out on something great.

    •  Kevin, in my experience, they aren’t that big of a deal. I’ve NEVER gotten a job, because of a job interview. Sure, you can’t botch that, but what happens afterwards is what’s most important.

      But you’re right: we do place a lot of weight on the first meeting. So I think we ought to be mindful of that, without thinking that the buck stops there.

      Thanks for bringing some balance to this thought.

  • I completely agree, Jeff.  Great thoughts.  I have a good friend who has been in my life for over 20 years.  My first impression of her was not good.  We laugh about it now, but the first time she ever talked to me I just wanted her to go away.  But she kept talking to me! 🙂   And, I am so thankful she did.  She and I have been there for each other through some very dark times.    Also, my husband.  My first impression:  I was not at all interested.  So thankful for the the “5th” impression too!

    •  since I’m kinda judgmental, I didn’t like most of my good friends the first time I met them.

  • Fascinating – never thought of it this way Jeff. As Kevin stated you can miss out on a lot of great people if you went by first impressions only. They could have been having a bad day, were tired or just not themselves on that first meeting. I like your  approach of always showing up – slow and steady matters. It’s not what you do in one day but what you do over time…  

    •  That’s what I’m learning, anyway. Thanks for the comment, Lisa.

  • When I meet someone for the first time I’m usually too busy doing other things that I forget about my impression of them.


  • Love this perspective Jeff. And you’re right. Some of my closest friends are people that I don’t remember meeting for the first time. They just “grew on me” over time as they were present and we invested in each others lives. First impressions matter, but not as much as the long-haul of walking together. On the other hand, I also have a couple of very close friends that I just knew we’d hit it off within moments of meeting. Sometimes there is just that chemistry/gut feeling thing that happens as well. My husband was one of those. I started crushing on him from the second he picked up my bag at the airport when I’d landed for a conference. 🙂

  • Hey Jeff!

    I love that story about your wife. Funny how we don’t always instantly notice the things we want or need when it’s right in front of us. I have a similar courtship story.

    I was wondering, if you had the time, if you could explain a bit more about your second point, earn permission. I think I understand that you’re suggesting to actively follow up – to not only earn, but to ask for permission. Right?

    But do you think that it’s possible to attempt too soon? What ways do you “make this explicit” without seeming too eager?

    Thanks, Jeff. 🙂

    •  Marlee, great question. The best type of permission is what Seth Godin calls “injective” permission. It’s what good friends and spouses have: you don’t have to ask, permission is implied.

      Yes, you can ask too soon. The best way to do it is to not ask. If you can build a great relationship with someone, they may actually offer. That’s my default, but every once in awhile, an “ask” is in order.

      •  Thanks for that, Jeff.

        I felt conflicted over the “earn” component of  your advice and the “explicit”, but you cleared it up. 🙂

  • Arthur Bichmacher

    Nice and original! We are so used to hear about first impressions we never actually stop to think about it this way… Cool point!

    •  Thanks, Arthur. Just my thoughts. Glad they resonate.

    • Arthur, I agree. First impressions are what’s talked about, not the continuing impressions that follow. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not the first impression that matters. It’s the most recent impression. 

  • This is bad news for me…I tend to make an excellent first impression, but as people get to know me, they like me less and less.  🙂

    So would you say that first impressions really don’t matter then?  Or perhaps they matter in the fact that a BAD first impression IS memorable and could taint the relationship in the long run?  I’d agree that first impression isn’t everything…but that it can still be very important.  Agree/disagree?

    • Brad, I think 1st impressions are important. If we look at physical appearance alone, there are many assumptions people make by the way one kept. Do they dress sharp, do they smell good, do they have their hair combed. Are their tattoos covered/showing for the appropriate audience? 
      Unfortunately, human nature stereotypes people based upon first impressions.Now, if someone is stereotyped in a certain category based upon their looks, but when they go to speak, there is an enormous amount of wisdom, then the potential bad 1st impression could turn out to be good. But, you have to earn that right to speak and pertaining to first impressions, you do that based upon how you carry yourself. The key then for you, since you make good first impressions, is to look at yourself (internally) and figure out what it is that are making the subsequent impressions turn south. Are there words, phrases, statements that are not ringing well with your audience? Do you become more or less casual (in dress or otherwise) with your audience as you get to know them? 

      Are you making it all about yourself and not about them?

      I encourage you to grab the book by Dale Carnegie “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. 

      Ciao, Ciao,

      Jason Ansley
      http://www.randyRCplanes.com@ansleyRDgroup:twitter @NPOdev:twitter @randyRCplanes:twitter 

  • Show up. Earn permission. Pay attention. These three things matter so much. 

    I have written on how to speed up the process … if you want to. I advocate that when you encounter someone you want to connect with you can leverage your third point – pay attention – by simply asking better questions. A sure-fire winner is, ‘What pleases you most about your work / life / etc.?’ The key is keep asking questions in order prevent you from talking prematurely about yourself.   https://sforganization.com/education-solution-focus/making-a-better-first-impression/

  • I agree Jeff. The first two are critical! 1. You have to be present 2. You have to earn the right to speak.
    My wife works for an international non-profit and the crux of their effectiveness hinges on the entire organizational culture understanding and living out these two principals!

    Jason Ansley

    @ansleyRDgroup:twitter @NPOdev:twitter @randyRCplanes:twitter 

    •  Very cool, Jason. Thanks for sharing.

  • This was much needed encouragement 🙂 As a true introvert I have a hard time with (or at least always feel awkward in) those first impression moments.  I’ve taught myself to be somewhat extroverted in social situations, which has helped my anxiety a ton. 

    As a mentor, I’m also not much for the “I’m fine” or small talk.  I’m interested in people’s hearts, dreams, passions. I’m interesting in drawing out depth, not niceties. 

    That can scare people off at first to be honest.  But I am slowly learning that a combination of both is important, and that sometimes the niceties pave the way to a mutually trusting relationship. 

    •  Well said, Lindsey. This is a good, balanced approach.

  • Naturally, much attention is givin to that 1st impression.  As I ponder it though, I do think you have a valid point.  Even if we botch our first impression, the impression we leave by constantly showing up and caring will soon wipe out any nasty taste left of a bad 1st impression. 

  • This is so true. Obviously we can’t take advantage of first impressions and act like complete jerks all the time, but the reality is that good, strong relationships take time. In some ways, social media is like a perpetual first impression – face time, but no real substance to back it up and help it grow. 

    Like you say, by showing up, earning permission, and paying attention, we demonstrate that we ACTUALLY CARE. I feel like that sentiment is getting more and more rare.

  • Savannah McQueen

    The first impression can leave us with a feeling of how we think about someone or something.  But that is usually a very superficial presentation.  To really know how we feel about it we have to work on getting beneath the surface and finding out more about them or it.  Then we can earn the right to impress or influence them.

    •  That’s right, Savannah. First impressions may matter, but they’re often not a good picture of the true person.

  • Ty

    Good point; at the very least you’ll learn more about the person you’re trying to woo, and can decide for yourself if it’s even worth it. 🙂

  • I think they are important but we do place too much emphasis on them. Someone could be having a really bad day the first time we meet them and we judge them from there on out by that first impression.

    My husband and I didn’t like each other when we first met. It definitely took some time for us to grow on each other.

  • So true.  Consistency is key, and in an instant gratification culture, consistency stands out.

  •  First impressions are clearly overrated.

  • Good points. First impressions certainly shouldn’t matter, because we’re usually not ourselves the first time. 

  • I enjoyed this post. I think it is so true. It takes time to really notice people, and the ones you notice are the ones you encounter enough for them to grow on you. It makes sense that what is true personally would also be true professionally. 

  • When I kept seeing “Hunger Games” at the top of Amazon’s list for the zillionth time, I finally said, “Hey, I got to read this.”

    More recently, I stopped in at a Texarkana hotel that my wife and I stayed in back in March. I remembered the woman’s name who made the cookies (good rule of thumb is always know the cookie baker’s name). She didn’t remember me (her 1st impression, just another guest) but I know my 2nd impression was a better one. She was surprised when I called her by name (and that does make an impression with me as well).

  • JasonThomasCormier

    I think first impressions have value but not as much as people put on them.  Just look at all the actors, bands, etc who get rejected by a bunch of people and then make it huge.

  • D

    The first impression can help get the relationship off to a good start – a real plus.  But it ultimately does not matter if there is no consistency. 

  • This is so good. Our true hearts are revealed in the staying, in the layering of moments, in the reval

    • in the willingness to be vulnerable (sorry that I am having so much trouble typing on my phone!)… I

  • What a relief. I cannot even count all the times I’ve butchered a first impression just by being my quirky self 🙂 It makes complete sense because once I get involved with someone – a new friend, coworker, romantic interest – I hardly ever remember the first awkward moments. And thank goodness for that.

  • Jrbdanish58

    Jeff, I agree with your points of relationship building.  Very good to remember.
    It is my feeling that “first impressions” have the most value in hind sight.  As I put into practice the 3 points you mentioned, at some point people usually reflect back to that first impression and it does one of two things.

    1) reinforces that they have made the right choice in building a relationship with me
    2) realize that they “knew” I was not thier type.

    If I have built the relationship with kindness and faithfulness, it will be #1.

    Thanks for the post

  • Anna

    It’s an interesting point of view.
    It’s the first time that I hear that the first impression is not so important.
    It’s better, for me, because I think that we should give more time to human relations in general.

  • I think first impressions do matter..just not as much as we think they do :). 

    If you creep me out that first time, i really won’t want to see/hear/interact with you the second time..leave alone the fifth.I hear the core message of this post…don’t give up just because you weren’t noticed the first time. Do your best all those five times, don’t quit. Be persistent. Great thoughts here. 

  • Jeff, I think first impressions matter a lot less than we give them credit for. In fact, I wrote a blog post about it a couple of weeks ago called The Most Important Impression. 

    It wasn’t the first impression that left an image ingrained in my mind. It was the impression that didn’t live up to my expectation. That made me want to gag. 

    But you hit on another aspect of impressions. The importance of showing up, to keep upping the impression factor. Eventually it will get to be irresistible. 

  • They do, but you’re right. That first impression may not be the best judge of a person. I like to spend a lot of time getting to know someone I wsnt to hire. I may still miss it, but I feel better about it.

  • I totally agree with you, except those few times when the first impression is all you get. Those once in a life time opportunities. I have one of those coming up tomorrow. I’m meeting someone completely out of my sphere of influence and that I will probably never encounter again – on or offline – unless a good impression is made. 

  • Jean Michelle Miernik

     As lots of commenters have said one way or another, it’s not all-or-nothing. First impressions DO matter, in some cases more than others, but they are not the ONLY thing that matters. The don’t-screw-it-up mentality of having only one chance is extremely anxiety-producing! Fortunately, there are very few times in life when a first impression is your only chance.

  • I do think first impressions matter but, like you said, the later impressions matter more. They don’t even need to be big things. One friend knows the name of my hometown. Everyone else can barely remember what state I’m from (when in doubt, they say Canada, which isn’t even true); I consider myself lucky if they know the nearest big city. Knowing the six-letter-name of my hometown catches me off-guard but means a whole lot to me. It’s simple but important.


  • Personally, first impressions matter only in extreme cases. Or rather, the negative ones which scare someone off and close off any interaction with them.

  • FreddieTeague

    Great post!

  • I agree with what you’re saying Jeff, I have a similar story with my wife 🙂

  • Excellent Jeff! Thanks for the link to Seth.
    Impressions are just that, impressions. But what’s behind the smile?
    I was sitting in a coffee house  with a bunch of musicians and old hippies, when in walked this striking girl. Out of the blue, I had this crazy thought run through my mind, “This could be your wife.” A week later I walked her back to the dorms, and asked her out for a day hike in the mountains. We’re still going out forty years and 6 children later.

  • I am big on first impressions, mainly because you only get one, but it’s true how the stuff you do after this is far more important. Consistent, persistent, and generally be someone worth speaking to.

    Individual or Brand, this is key 

    Hope the book launch is going well 🙂

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  • I think first impressions do matter, but second, third, fourth and fifth impressions matter more. And I think that’s what you’re getting at.

    People often say that the best (music) albums are the ones that take a few listens before you start to really like them. That’s usually because they have depth and subtlety that’s only discovered with multiple listens.

    The question is, will people stick around for more than one listen?  These days, maybe not. But then, are those the listeners (or readers or friends or advocates) you want anyway?

  • So true, Jeff! Of course, it’s the consistency that creates the challenge, isn’t it? I’ve been teaching salespeople for 20 years, and it’s a lesson we learn very early. We call it “professional persistence.” Whether you’re “selling” insurance or ideas, it’s the same. RARELY do you get a result in the first few contacts. What you’re looking for is traction, then momentum, then the sale – or marriage proposal.

    I wonder if anyone else does this: I usually picture one of my “PLUs” (as we call our little tribe) when I write or record audio. It helps me to think I’m speaking directly to that specific person. I imagine them getting encouragement, hanging in there one more day – for one more page or one more post or one more call. That motivates me b/c it helps create a sense that I’m contributing something tangible, which drives me to do more. Does that make sense?

  • Steve

    I agree with your point and that it takes time to develop relationships. However, first impressions matter whether we like it or not. As a marketing professional, normally the standard we discuss is that it takes 20 encounters to undo a first impression.

  • mandythompson

    Date her roommate? Best opening line ever! Made me chuckle a bit.

    I think you could write an entire post (or even book) on that third point. We have lost our ability to listen intently.
    Plus, we are swimming in “networking,” while our brains are too tiny to hold on to more than 150 people.

    But, I kinda like thinking that everyone poops, gets 24 hrs a day, and 150 friends. We all live within the same human limits.

  • I remember the first time I saw my wife, but she doesn’t remember me at all. Underwhelming. But I did get the girl, so perhaps first impressions aren’t everything.
    Seriously though, I love your point about showing up. Keep at it day after day.

  • Bj

    Hi Jeff,

    Just wondering how you would relate this to picking up a book.  If I have to wait to the fifth chapter to connect with it, I think the book has problems.

    In other words, what makes for a good introduction?