If you've ever been for a job interview or even on a first date, you've no doubt heard plenty of advice about first impressions and how much they matter.
What about when you're meeting potential friends for the first time? Keeping in mind that just about anybody, from a new neighbour to the lady behind at the check-out in the supermarket can be a potential friend, first impressions are equally as important when you're just out and about, going about your daily life.
When we first meet a new person our sub-conscious mind automatically starts computing a variety of signals from which we draw our conclusions. No doubt you've met people and immediately felt uncomfortable with them. But, if asked, you wouldn't be able to say why you didn't like that particular person - there's just something you can't quite put your finger on. The same goes with those we immediately feel comfortable with. Our minds are simply sending us the answer to a complicated equation; an answer we don't always fully understand.
It's important to remember that we've only between seven and seventeen seconds of interaction before the other person will form an opinion. Although later deeds may help them re-evaluate their stance, nothing will entirely eradicate the first feelings they had about you. When it comes to first impressions, second chances simply don't exist.
So how do we make a good first impression?
The first rule, and this really is a golden rule, is to immediately give the 'spotlight' to the other person.
Everybody likes to feel that they're the centre of attention and when making a good first impression, giving them the starring role is paramount to success.
Just think of the times you've met somebody who talked about herself non-stop. How did you feel? Did you want to spend more time with her or did you avoid her like the plague? My guess is the latter.
Whether or not the other person will make equally as a good a first impression on you will also depend on how they react to your giving them this central role. If they take it and keep running, they'll no doubt become boring - the 'conversation baton' should be handed back and forth, giving each part an equal opportunity to speak about themselves.
Listen to what she says.
It's no use giving the other person the spotlight if you're not going to listen to what she's saying. Don't interrupt but do make the right sounds and motions to show that you're interested in what she's saying.
Short sentences like: "so what happened next?" or "and did you enjoy it?" are acceptable to lead the conversation forward but whatever you do, don't say "funnily enough, I had a similar situation where..." and take the baton away from her by launching into your own story. By all means let her know you understand her through your own similar experience as this will give her a good opportunity to hand the central role back to you but let her choose the moment for the handover.
To be a good listener it's also important to maintain eye contact. Nobody enjoys talking to somebody who's constantly looking around them as though waiting for somebody more interesting to come along. Give her your full attention.
Avoid 'foot in mouth' syndrome.
Humour is fine if you know how to use it but when making first impressions it's probably best avoided unless you're absolutely certain you won't stray into personal territory.
Obviously, the odd quip is acceptable but making 'funny' remarks about specific social groups and situations to somebody you don't know may well prove to be hurtful. Regardless of how innocent the joke was, if you hurt the other person's sensitivities you might just as well walk right away as any future relationship will be either out of the question or very strained indeed.
Don't correct the other person.
Nobody wants to be friends with an argumentative person, do they?
With that in mind, make sure the other person doesn't wrongly judge you by biting your tongue even if somebody says something that's totally against your own beliefs or that you know to be wrong.
Some people find confrontations difficult to handle regardless of how long they've known a person - for those who've just met another person, it can and probably will be damning to any potential relationship that may have developed.
Make yourself understood.
Shy people have a tendency to mumble when they speak, as though what they have to say is unimportant and doesn't need to be heard.
If you're talking to another person, for whatever reason, then obviously you have something to say that should be heard, even if it's just "what's the price of a loaf of bread?" or "I'm sorry, I'm late and must dash."
You won't make a good first impression if the other person can't understand you. Remember those seven to seventeen seconds? How many of them do you think you'll have used just by having to repeat what you said? Mumbling is simply a waste of precious first impression time.
Others will also form opinions of you based on the way you speak. Within those first crucial seconds they will have judged your level of intelligence, your cultural background, your level of education and more. Just think how you differently you'd judge a person who said "What? I didn't hear you" to a person who said "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch what you said." Which of the two you'd feel most comfortable with is irrelevant, the example is simply to identify the way we make our judgements.
Using the above rules should help you feel more confident in social situations where you interact with new people. By developing these skills you'll soon find that making friends will become easier and that you'll at least be on "passing the time of day" terms with far more people than you ever were before.