Why are first impressions so important? As we think about the world we live in today, we realize it is constantly changing. It is a world where we are regularly stepping into new situations and meeting new people. That’s important for us to realize because we need to consider how we are perceived and how other people view us in these new situations. We need to think about what impression we make, and that involves our own and others’ first impressions and why first impressions are a big deal.

The Value of a Good First Impression

When we know we are heading into a new situation and will be meeting new people, we have an innate desire to come across well. We want to be well received and accepted, so we try to dress for the meeting and be on our best behavior. Here’s part of the reason why: First impressions are really important because we never get another chance to make another first impression. That first impression we make is the only time we ever get that opportunity. That’s why we need to learn a little more about this thing we call a first impression.

A Bad First Impression

First, though, let me tell you about a bad first impression I made earlier in my life. Soon after I first met Sandra at Texas A & M University, the girl who would later become my wife, we were at a dance and ended up dancing together for a while. For the rest of that week, we laughed and joked around together, getting to know each other better.

I’m a bit of a jokester, probably even more so then than now. I had found out her birthday was coming up the following week, and on her birthday, I had decided to go by her dorm room and wish her a happy birthday. After I knocked and she had opened the door, I said, “Hey, Sandra, I know today is your birthday, so I came by to say happy birthday. And for your birthday gift, I’m going to let you kiss me on my cheek.”

Playing along she said, “Oooh!” And she gave me that kiss. Then, she opened the door all the way and said, “Hey, while you’re here, Ford, let me introduce you to my mother and my older sister.” Now, can you imagine the first impression I had made on the mother of the woman who would become my future wife and her older sister? With her older sister, it might not have taken twenty additional encounters to undo that; it might have taken twenty years (joking). I had some clean-up work to do after that, I can assure you.

Overcoming a Bad First Impression

Research shows that it only takes thirty seconds or less to make a good first impression. Some studies have shown that it may only take a split second.

Research has also shown that it takes approximately twenty additional encounters to overcome a bad first impression. Now if we make a bad first impression, what is the likelihood that we’re going to have twenty additional encounters with that person? If we go to church with, go to school with, are on a sports team with, or work with the person, we might have those opportunities. But outside of that, we probably won’t have an opportunity for twenty additional encounters. But if we did, we wouldn’t be able to use these additional encounters effectively if we didn’t even realize we had made a bad first impression.

If we were aware that we had made a bad first impression, what tool could we use to overcome it? We could use that six-step apology if we were at fault. We could just admit how we had come across, say we were wrong, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and give him or her permission to hold us accountable for not coming across that way anymore. Then, we could ask, “Is there anything else I’ve done that I need to apologize for?” Six steps in all, but six steps that, if done with humility, love, forgiveness, and truth, can absolutely change a relationship for the better and repair a poor first impression.

The Subtlety of First Impressions

Is it possible we can make a bad first impression and not have done anything wrong? Have you ever met somebody and thought, I just really don’t like that person, but I can’t quite put my finger on why.

It could be that there was something planted in your hippocampus from some person or event that happened a long time ago that prevents you from liking someone you meet today. Negative events from the past can come to rest in our hippocampus. Because they happened a long time ago, we may not even be consciously aware of them. It could be something as simple as the color of a shirt, a particular type of smile, or some word the person said that may be an unconscious reminder of unpleasant associations from the past. But, those experiences could help form first impressions in us about others and about us to others. When we understand some of the subtleties of first impressions, we can be more prepared to overcome them.

Why First Impressions Are Critical

In our organization, good first impressions are critical. If we make a bad first impression on a customer or a person in another type of relationship, the person probably will not come back a second time. If you went to a restaurant and got a bad meal and bad service, you’re probably not going to return there twenty more times to allow that restaurant the opportunity to revise your perception of their food and service.

We all must be careful about those first impressions and what we are communicating to people when we interact with them the first time. As transformational leaders, we need to be aware of how we are coming across.

Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.