Time for a Do-Over: How to Overcome a Bad First Impression

Photo of women looking slightly embarrassed.

We’ve all had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and making a bad first impression – the cringe worthy kind that makes you wish you had a time machine.

While you can’t turn back the clock, there are things you can do to try to change a less than optimal first encounter to a positive second impression.

Changing someone’s initial opinion of you is hard, but it can be done. Of course, when you’re recovering from a bad first meeting, trying again can seem daunting. What if you make the situation even worse?

Whether you had an awkward exchange with another administrative professional in your group, or were a little short with a colleague in marketing, there are things you can do to remedy the situation. Read on for tips on winning people over on your second try.

Be ready

Do: Prepare for the second meeting. Maybe your first encounter was unexpected, and your manager’s new client dropped by unannounced while you were focused on a deadline, and you were not quite as friendly as you would typically be. But now you can strategize. Do some research, and find topics for small talk. If she recently attended a conference, ask about the keynote speaker. If he just got a promotion, offer your congratulations. 

Don’t: Bring up personal information. If you read the client’s old Twitter messages, then ask questions about them, you won’t come across as observant — just creepy.

Remember positive details

Do: Mention some positive topic that came up during the first encounter. Did the new executive assistant share a funny story or a piece of good news? If so, bring it up during the second first impression. You’ll show you were really listening and draw attention to the positive portion of your first discussion.

Don’t: Repeat yourself too much. If your joke didn’t get a laugh the first timeit won’t improve through retelling.

Listen closely

Do: To overcome a bad first impression, listen more than you talk. And when someone else finishes speaking, take your time before responding. You can avoid unintentional interruptions while using those extra few seconds to gather your thoughts for a more intelligent response.

Don’t: Focus on what you’re going to say next. If the people speaking have to repeat themselves because you weren’t paying attention, you’ll only reinforce their negative first impression.

Mind your business manners

Do: Mind your business etiquette. If you made a mistake or unintentionally did something rude, apologize sincerely without making excuses when you see that person again.

Don’t: Dwell on past bad behavior. Once you apologize, move on. This is your second first impression, and a fresh start means leaving the past behind.

Break the ice

Do: Bring in a third party to help break the ice — ideally, a familiar person whom everyone respects. If you got off on the wrong foot with a consultant your colleague has brought in to improve internal processes, it can sometimes help to have that coworker present when you see the consultant next. Maybe you were taken by surprise by the changes the consultant suggested and your coworker can better explain the reasoning behind the adjustments.

Don’t: Expect the second impression to reverse the first. Even if the third person is successful as a mediator, it might take some time to normalize relations. Be patient and keep trying.

Beware of bad habits

Do: Watch out for your bad habits. For example, if you speak too bluntly when stressed, find ways to calm and mentally prepare yourself for this second meeting, and go in with a strategy to avoid knee-jerk responses. Sometimes simply being aware of how you overreact in certain situations can help to keep that behavior in check. 

Don’t: Adopt a different persona. If you’re a serious person by nature, for instance, attempts to be a lively joker are likely to fall flat. Just strive to be a little warmer and friendlier without being fake.

Know the online rules

Do: Learn the new rules of the digital age. Perhaps you made a bad first impression on social media because you didn’t know the codes of online conduct. For example, posting a political message on Facebook where you’re friends with many work colleagues and you don’t know where they stand on the issue. If so, read up on best practices for acting professionally on LinkedIn, Facebook and other sites.

Don’t: Be pushy, impersonal and self-serving. As with in-person networking, your digital interactions should be professional, genuine and generous.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is this: You can’t always recover from a bad first impression. You may have done something that offended the other person too much, or that person doesn’t easily forgive and forget. However, no matter what the case, you can always learn from your mistakes and move on. 

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