How to make a terrible first impression

I have a confession to make. I watch Married at First Sight. I know, I know, I can feel your judgement from here.

I’m not addicted. I promise. I don’t go so far as to cancel all personal engagements for 10 weeks to rush home and sit glued to the television, but I may tape it so that I can watch later on… 🙂

It’s a train wreck, a catastrophe on several levels and I cringe more in the 90 minutes of each episode than I have ever done in my own most embarrassing moments, and I have done some silly things in my time. Married at First Sight is the contemporary television equivalent of Jerry Springer on steroids. It’s everything that’s wrong with today’s culture, and I can’t stop watching!

The idea that two strangers can meet at the altar and find ever-lasting happiness equally disturbs and intrigues me. First impressions are always fraught with both opportunity and confusion. Sometimes I wish I could rewind my first introductions with people and start again, simply for the fact that I may not have had my coffee yet, I may have been very nervous and stumbled over my words, or simply because my hair looked like I had been dragged over a hedge backwards. The worst first impression I ever made was with the Recovery Coordinator for the Northern Rivers floods in 2017. I spent the best part of an hour calling him the wrong name. And it wasn’t a simple Bill/Will situation. No, I managed to call a man named ‘Euan’, ‘Fergus’ for a good 60 minutes. Stellar effort, Alex, well done!

All the quotes in the world will tell you that first impressions last. But can you come back from a poor first impression? I think you can. Here’s how…

Make a personal connection
Put effort into finding out something specific about the person you need to second impress. Try and avoid the idle chit chat of weather or sports and go for something important. Is the person a published writer, have they trained colleagues on a particular subject matter, do they have a professional skill that is unusual? Stalk the person on Linked In, ask your boss or any common colleagues for information. The focus of making a personal connection during a second impression is on building a solid foundation for trust to build.

Be open and honest
Without spending 20 minutes saying apologizing over and over, simply put things into a little perspective. If you were caught off guard because you were dealing with a difficult situation at the time of your first meeting, simply tell the person what was happening in the background to give them some context and move forward. A simple “I’m sorry I called you by the wrong name when we first met, I was dealing with a deployment issue at the time and misheard”.  Hopefully they will take it in their stride, forgive you and you can move on to the work that you need to do.

Listen x 3
You’ve got some ground to make up so it is important to listen more than you talk and ask thoughtful questions. Make the person feel like they have your full attention, they are the star of the show for this interaction. The best second impression you can make is to ensure that the other person walks away from the encounter feeling like you care about and respect them.

Keep it short and sharp
Plenty of people will tell you that first impressions last. We want to shift that and replace the first impression with a more positive, engaging second impression instead. Make sure that your second impression is based on how you made them feel. Don’t waste the person’s time. Keep it focused and simple. Give the person your undivided attention for the time you have with them and then lead the conversation towards an ending, but let the other person end it. Don’t wind things up before the natural conclusion of your meeting, but let the person know that they are in control and can finish up with the interaction when they are ready.

Mind your manners
Never underestimate the power of manners. A simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way to paving the path to good relationships and strong connections.

So, how does this help us as Commanders and Incident Controllers? Well, let’s substitute out Euan in my earlier example for a community affected by major flooding or an intense bushfire…

Your first impressions as a response agency may not have been the most positive during the chaos of the battle. The next impression will be the most important in building a strong connection for recovery and resilience building. Use the 5 second impression tips during a community meeting and pave your way forward as a team for community preparedness in the future.

And for those crazy kids on Married at First Sight?  I’m pretty sure they would have a better chance at lasting love and happiness if they focused on the 5 steps above too. But then without all that angst and drama, it wouldn’t make episodes very exciting would it? 🙂

Keen to know how to make a great impression on people?  Check out the links in Sarah Chang’s article – “8 secrets to making a great impression on anyone”.

Image Credit: Channel 9 Married at First Sight

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