Despite all the times I’ve been told how important it is to make a good first impression, I notoriously suck at it. Really, I should say it’s a (constant) work in progress, because I am (constantly) working on it.
I have a few things working against me from the get go. The first is occasionally crippling anxiety. The second is an often overwhelming sensation of self-doubt. The third is a horrendous case of RBF, or Resting Bitch Face, which causes me to look perpetually angry and unapproachable even though I’m probably thinking about kittens or debating whether or not to stop for Starbucks on my way home. And the fourth is my voice, which harbors a naturally “harsh” pitch. So, in short, I’m a mess.
But, due to a recent promotion at work and some positive changes to the way I treat my mental health, I’m on a kick to try and “improve” myself, and one of the steps I need to make is getting better at first impressions. I’ve even been practicing my handshake, which is already much improved!
I’ve been told by people that I am now friends/acquaintances with that they were “intimidated by” or “afraid of” me when we first met – which, if you know anything about me, is absurd. I’m about as intimidating as a Jigglypuff. This is me, when angry:
Not scary at all, right? Of course, that’s partially my own impression of me, which is skewed. I suppose that I make bad first impressions because I look and sound mean, unless I make an effort to actively soften or mask the rough edges of my personality. Combine that with anxiety, and it’s a recipe for disaster. For the record, I’m all in favor of the “be yourself” mentality. I’m not ashamed of who I am as a person in general. But when being myself is prohibiting my ability to network, make and maintain friends, appeal to readers, or do my job effectively, then maybe there are some things that need a bit of tweaking.
In my self-improvement efforts, I have been practicing my eye contact when speaking to people, especially when first meeting them. I usually avoid this like the plague, but I’ve been finding it much easier as I do it more often. This has helped to soften the blow of the other factors working against me. However, it’s more difficult to rein in the “RBF” because it’s the natural state of my face. To combat it, I’ve been attempting to be more attuned to what my face is doing when I’m around other people, and especially when speaking to others. I don’t want people to think I’m bored with what they’re saying because of my face, when oftentimes, I’m genuinely interested. So I’ve made an effort to be more aware of the rest of my body language as well, such as my posture and arm-crossing/whatnot, so if my face slips, at least the rest of me appears engaged.
I also try to be more aware of my tone of voice. As the unfortunate bearer of a distinct, naturally monotonous alto with a dry sense of humor, an affliction many other women also suffer from, I have been making a concerted effort to add inflection and enthusiasm into my voice, in proportion to what I’m saying. I sort of think of it as adding invisible emojis to my sentences. Again, I don’t think of it as being “fake.” I think of it as trying to accurately project what I’m feeling or what I intend to convey without being sabotaged by the natural state of my voice/face, and I do think it helps me improve how I come across when meeting people. I don’t want constructive criticism to sound like lambasting, or genuine compliments to sound sarcastic. At least, until I get to know people enough that they become aware of and understand my idiosyncrasies.
And, of course, one of the most important parts of making a good first impression is… earning the chance to make a second, or third. Or, if first impressions go awry, working on making the second one better, if possible. Get knocked down, get back up. Keep plugging away at the things I need to improve. I am a big “catastrophiser,” as in, my thoughts continually stray into “worst-case scenario” territory, but I’ve been getting better at not giving up at the first misstep, and forging ahead instead. Stare fear and anxiety and “what-ifs?” in the face, then stomp all over them.
If anyone else has good first impression tips or advice, or have faced a similar struggle, I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon / Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.