It takes just six to 30 seconds for people to judge us when we meet. Studies suggest this stems from the 'fight or flight' mechanism hard-wired into the brain for survival.
US researcher Frank Bernieri, coauthor of Interpersonal Sensitivity (Psychology Press), calls it 'thin slicing' - making assessments based on mere seconds or 'thin slices' of observing someone, and deciding whether they are a friend or a foe - or, today, flirt or future husband, fun party pal or trustworthy potential employee.
These instant 'gut' judgments can be surprisingly accurate - our intelligent unconscious can compute almost instantly what may take days of rational mental evaluation, says Malcolm Gladwell in Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking (Penguin). But even when people judge wrongly, they tend to cling to their assessments through 'confirmation bias'.
"Because we prefer to have our views confirmed, we tend to notice and remember mainly information that supports our views," explains Durban psychologist and life coach Claire Newton. "The better you are at impression management, the more successful you will be in life."
Disarm a Date
"Like you, most guys want someone who will 'add value' to their life," says Fiona Dorse, owner of Corporate Dating in Durban. "Project that!" Whether it's a blind date or you're simply looking to impress someone at your local watering hole, do:
1. Dress subtly. Choose something that suits the venue and your personality, she says. "It should fit well and show off your best features, but not too much - you don't want to come across as trying too hard." Think an off-the-shoulder top with well-cut jeans - somewhat revealing but not trashy.
2. Be warm and relaxed. Gymming earlier can release nervous energy and make you glow. When you greet him, take your lead from him and his culture. Smile, and (if you're on a date) risk a quick hug. "You will also smell each other," says Dorse. Pheromones can be key in deciding 'date or ditch?'
3. Focus on him. No scanning the room or checking your phone, she says. "Make eye contact but don't stare him down, and don't bombard him with questions - it's not an interview." Most men will talk happily about themselves, going on and on if you let them, says Newton. "Too often women sit resentfully waiting their turn. Chip in and have your say - it's the way men have conversations with each other, so they expect it."
4. Watch your body language. Make it relaxed, casual and open. If you fancy him, lean in, but don't try touching his sleeve, says Newton. "He could feel you are serious too soon and want to flee!"
Capture Online Connections
As in life, you have only seconds to win over people online, and that includes not just future followers and cyberfriends, but potential dates and employers, says Keri Paddock, course instructor for the University of Cape Town's social-media short course. (See Getsmarter.co.za.)
1. Polish your bios. Those few words beside your name on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms should convey what you'd want to tell someone if you had just 30 seconds to speak with them.
2. Upload a professional-looking profile picture. This is usually the irst visual encounter people have with you, Paddock says. Be circumspect - a recent survey by Jobvite.com showed that 86% of employers search social-proile histories. "Pay special attention to Facebook, where lines are blurred between our social and professional lives. Consciously decide if you want a clear image or prefer to be more obscure."
3. Use your privacy settings. "Make sure the right impressions reach the right people," she says. "From my experience, Facebook users don't put enough time into managing their friend lists. And be careful of photos friends tag of you that can end in other's news feeds and on your timeline."
4. Watch your tweets, posts, status updates and chats. "There's no worse first impression than a negative rant," Paddock says. Keep content fresh, positive, useful and entertaining. "And yes, spelling and grammar do count!"
Bowl Over a Dream Boss
"I often hear from companies running graduate internship programmes that applicants arrive for interviews in boob tubes, denim skirts and torn jeans," says Haydee Antezana, CEO of Professional Impressions in Jo'burg. "They think it's enough to have finished top in their class - but it shows disrespect and that they haven't done their homework on the company brand."
1. Dress the part. Establish dress code from company website pictures or call and ask the receptionist. "Be fashionable but appropriate, and well-groomed."
2. Arrive on time. "Being late shows not how busy you are but how disorganised,' Antezana says. 'We all know traffic can be bad; don't use it as an excuse."
3. Project positive energy. Walk tall, smile and give a firm handshake. Open with, "Hello, thank you for meeting with me."
4. Make eye contact. "This shows openness and conidence in business circles worldwide, unless the person is of a culture where it could be considered rude," says Antezana. Take your cue from them.
5. Watch your voice. "Speaking too loudly or shrilly can drive people away before you can blink," she says. Speaking too softly can project shyness and poor self-confidence, and speaking too fast may make you seem nervous.
6. Watch your body language. "Sit straight, focus fully, nod periodically, and don't interrupt or fidget," she says.
Charm Potential In-Laws
He makes you incredibly happy, so you want to make sure they know how happy you make him.
1. Do your homework. Ask your man about their interests so you can line up conversation openers. Ask which topics you should avoid.
2. Dress up a little. They will appreciate you making an effort. "Nothing too sexy or loud - and keep makeup minimal," says Antezana.
3. Greet them warmly but respectfully. Take your lead from them. If they put out a hand, shake it; if they lean over to kiss your cheek, don't retract. "Don't use their first names or call them "Mom" or "Dad" until they suggest it," she says.
4. Bring a small gift. A home-made treat shows thoughtfulness.
5. Compliment their son. Tell a story that highlights something you love about him. It shows that you appreciate him, and that they raised a good man, says Antezana. " I asked my future mother-in-law at that irst meeting, "Can you tell me what your son's faults are? I can't find any." She said, "Me neither!" We were friends from the start."
6. Treat your man with kindness and respect too. "They want to see that the relationship goes deeper than just 'fun'."