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The four variables that influence first impressions

first impressions

The four variables that influence first impressions

First Impressions are critical when discussing Executive Presence. We constantly make judgements about others based on spur of the moment hunches and intuition. This mechanism is part of our DNA, and can be traced back to our caveman ancestors who were on high alert every time an outsider appeared. They needed to know immediately whether or not the stranger posed a danger to them.

Judging others we meet based on very little information is a subconscious act, and we do it with everyone we meet. Needless to say, when we meet others, they judge us and form impressions on the spot. It is therefore in our best interest to try to create the best first impression we can when we meet other people.

There are four variables that influence first impressions: Likeability, Credibility, Power and Attractiveness. Let’s take a look at each one:

Variable #1: Likeability

Likeability describes our feelings toward people, their warmth and friendliness. Is this person approachable? Can we open up to them right away?

We are generally more comfortable with extroverts as they are demonstrative and expressive. Extroverts typically have great eye contact, use open and expressive gestures, and conversations are a give-and-take. For these reasons, we tend to warm up to extroverts quickly – we are inclined to perceive them as likeable people. Introverts, on the other hand, often speak softly, display few gestures and may not have great eye contact. We may read and misinterpret these as signs of deception – that the person is concealing something.

Why talk about introverts and extroverts when discussing likeability? When it comes to creating a favorable first impression, introverts may need to stretch themselves outside their comfort zones, in order to increase their on-the-spot likeability factor. Introverts can recharge themselves in solitude immediately after an interaction, as Dr. Brian Little describes, following his university lectures.

Variable #2: Credibility

Credibility is the quality of being trusted and believed in. There can be no bias present if credibility is to shine through. Think of Oprah; what happens when a book lands on her book list? Millions of copies are sold immediately! That is because she oozes credibility and we trust her taste and judgement.

Be careful not to focus on credibility at the expense of your warmth/likeability! (Recall our blog post a few weeks ago that discusses warmth, or likeability, versus competence?).

Variable #3: Power

Powerful people exercise influence. We recognize their authority and involuntarily feel the need to please them and receive a favorable reaction. According to Dr. Kathleen Reardon, there are two types of power, personal and positional:

Positional power has to do with how much formal power people perceive you to have. Status, visibility centrality, relevance, job cachet, and autonomy are a few common forms of positional power. Personal forms of power have to do with traits and styles of acting, such as charisma, dedication, ingratiation, and professionalism (Reardon 150).

Variable #4: Appearance

First impressions are formed in a mere 500 milliseconds, which means before we get a chance to say a word, people have formed an impression of us. Ninety-five percent of our bodies are covered in clothing and accessories, so our appearance is bound to say something about us. Note: although attractiveness may increase people’s likability factor, we instinctively consider likeable people, attractive.

There are many factors at play when it comes to creating a favorable first impression. Breaking down the variables paints a clearer picture of the areas we need to focus on, and improve upon, when it comes to interacting with others. Doing so will help to enhance our Executive Presence.

To learn more about how to enhance the first impression you make, take a look at our course on Intro to EP and First Impressions.

Works Cited

Reardon, Kathleen Kelley. The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle.
New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.

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