Let me set the scene. You’re at a friend of a friend’s party. You are meeting someone for the very first time. Just remember not to mention the rash you found when you were getting ready or show them how you can fit your entire fist in your mouth. Okay they’re walking over. Should you stand up? Stay sitting? No, let’s commit to neither and do that stupid half crouch thing. Yeah, nailed it! Now they’re going for a handshake. Wait, no they aren’t. What do you do with your outstretched hand now? Oh no, they’ve noticed you don’t know what to do with your hand. What do you do now?! Don’t do it. No, close your mouth. “You won’t believe where I found the weirdest rash today!” You blurt out and ruin everything.
My brain when I’ve got half my fist in my mouth and everybody looks uncomfortable
Everybody has an embarrassing first impression story to tell. And I hate to say it but probably a story told about them too. So, what exactly happens when we meet someone for the first time and why do we end up feeling not so good about the awkward interaction afterwards? Let’s break it down.
How are first impressions made?
How do we know within seconds that “Chad”, who shows up to the first day of uni in his ‘15 school jersey with only a pen in his pocket, is probably not going to finish his entire Law degree?
Sorry Chad, nobody cares your high school nickname was “Chadinator”
Psychologists suggest we make decisions about others within mere minutes of first seeing them. These inclinations are mostly subconscious and much of this judgement is based on factors relating to facial features and our pre-existing knowledge of other individuals we’ve met with similar traits.
It doesn’t end there, other research has found an array of common habits and features which link to how you are perceived when first meeting someone. In particular, researchers have strongly focused on trustworthiness; discovering people tend to determine whether they can trust someone else within a tenth of a second. Faces that look more trusting are those that look happy even when not smiling and are more feminine, with even baby-like features. So basically if you’re looking at a young Leonardo DiCaprio you are seeing one gosh darn trustworthy (and beautiful) man.
However, considering these factors don’t actually have a strong correlation to trustworthiness, it’s not recommended we rely on our first impression to determine this characteristic. I mean Snow White trusted the old lady offering apples (who, might I add, has none of the aforementioned facial features of trustworthiness) and we all know how that ended.
So yes ultimately, although not always accurate and reliable, everybody makes snap judgments when meeting someone. Even though we’re told never to judge a book by its cover, here we are.
So, why are we so awkward?
Everybody gets nervous when meeting someone for the first time, with the exception of Beyoncé for obvious reasons.
It’s because first impressions are important. There is no denying that. The first impression we make can often cause a phenomenon referred to as the halo effect. This effect is what links humans to make further assumptions about a person after only recognising one characteristic.
So you could say it’s a mixture of feeling self-conscious, nervous and awkward when trying to make that perfect first impression. Every person you meet is a potential new friend, client, connection or bae. The first interaction is our chance to show them exactly who we are. This pressure, funnily enough, can be intimidating and can cause anxiety. Which is why we find ourselves smiling too much, laughing too loudly, forgetting how to speak or disclosing personal info that is probably not appropriate for your sister’s roommate’s cousin, who you met literally ten seconds ago.
Are our perceptions accurate?
Like me, I’m sure you’ve walked away from meeting someone for the first time kicking yourself for acting so weird. Especially when you swear you just met the love of your life, and you managed to forget your own name and talk about a traumatic experience at a zoo for 3 minutes too long.
I know nobody cares about the reason I fear penguins. I just can’t stop myself.
In what sounds like an extremely uncomfortable and cringeworthy experiment, psychologists got people to meet for the first time and then rate the interactions. Lucky for us, this study found that we actually make better first impressions than we probably think while walking away. The research demonstrated that participants consistently underestimated how much someone liked them after meeting for the first time. That’s right. We don’t need to feel too embarrassed reliving our past first interactions.
Whether you are hoping to make a good first impression at a future job interview, when you meet others while travelling solo or just want to be prepared for the next time you meet a Grade A Hottie, it’s always a good idea to learn how to make a good impact when meeting people for the first time.
You only have one chance to make a first impression so always try to put your best foot forward. But also don’t sweat it too much, as in the wise words of the almighty Elle Woods, “first impressions are not always correct”. So therefore, they cannot and will not define you. I mean the Beast made the worst first impression on Belle (locking her in a cage and all), while Romeo and Juliet had one of the greatest first interactions (minus the feuding families thing) and only one of these pairs lived happily ever… whilst the others didn’t live at all.
(and also inspiring Chads everywhere to pursue their career in Law)