ImpressionFor nearly four years, I traveled the country one week a month, giving training programs for SkillPath Seminars. When I was new on this gig, I worried about how I looked at the front of a room.

Did I shift my weight from side to side? Did I move my hands too much? Did I use repetitive phrases?

The most freeing day was when I realized it wasn’t about me. It was about giving people the information they needed – plus some stories, exercises and entertainment. As soon as I stopped thinking about myself, I made a better impression …

Conjure up every platitude you’ve heard about making a good first impression. They’re all about stuff you should – or shouldn’t – be doing. I liken this to why I never learned to play golf. There were so many things to remember before taking a swing that I could never move the club! (Some of you will recognize Zeno’s Paradox.)  

The irony is that the more you think about how you can make yourself look good, the worse you’ll do. Here’s what to do instead.

Make Them Feel Good

There are two types of “impression management”: self-promoting and other-focused. Tim Judge and Bob Bretz (Political Influence Behavior and Career Success) did a study of how to get ahead at work. They discovered that those who focused on job performance (self-promoting) had lower salaries and fewer promotions than those who paid attention to their supervisors (other-focused).

So it’s better to make your boss (or whomever you’re trying to influence) feel good than make yourself look good.

Let’s give this a practical application in a new business situation.

Start with making her feel seen and appreciated.

Research shows that a solid handshake matters more than any other variable in an interview. (Does that frighten you, too?) This shows you are genuinely pleased to meet the person and gives an impression of competence and warmth.

It also signals you are a person who will get things done because you care about her. We tend to like and trust people who send these messages – so are more easily persuaded by them.

Give her your attention.

80% of the population values frequent eye contact. (75% are visual learners and 5% are kinesthetics.) Chances are good she falls into that group. So she believes that if you’re not looking at her, you’re ignoring her.

Also ask questions, smile, and listen more than you speak. This builds rapport. In addition, you gather the information you need to show you can actually solve her problem or give her what she needs from you. This means you won’t have to look like you’re “selling” her.

Compliment her.

These must be honest statements. They should be genuinely meant to share your positive thoughts – without an immediate hope of anything in return. (We all know on a molecular level when we’re being buttered up.)

On the flip side, watch the number of self-promotional statements you make. Frame your comments in a way that keeps her the center of attention. Talk about the value she will get from a relationship with you rather than getting lost in your talking points.

What’s Next?

Have I turned this into the proverbial golf lesson, with too many things to remember? Then start by practicing just one of these ideas a week. For example, notice the number of times you give heartfelt compliments versus say good things about yourself. Add the others as you get more facile with one.

By truly focusing on the person you’re trying to persuade, you show her the positive qualities that make you a good partner/ job candidate/employee who should be promoted. Taking care of her is the best way to do the same for yourself.