Individual Leadership

Can you bounce back from a bad first impression?

Written by Megan Davis

2 Min Read

You only get one chance at making a first impression. Which is fundamentally correct. But what happens when you say one offbeat thing, wear a wrinkled tie, or your hands shake and you spill coffee on the table?

Can you overcome a bad first impression?

Of course you can!

Ok, in all fairness, you can’t always overcome a bad first impression. Being outwardly rude on a phone interview or ill-mannered on a date might not net you a second chance. But, in many situations, you’ll get another opportunity, and then what should you do? Here are a few ways you might be able to tip the scale in your favor.

Acknowledge your slip (whatever it is), but don’t keep bringing it up

You want to make it clear that you know you made a mistake during that first interaction (particularly a personal one), but nothing is worse than when someone forgives you and you just can’t stop talking about it. People want to be heard and have their feelings acknowledged, but generally, they’re happy to move on and so should you.

Slowly build trust

Bouncing back when you’ve made a bad impression isn’t fast or easy. It’s a process that you need to invest in. Once you’ve acknowledged what went wrong, figure out the best way to show that you’re better than that. If you wore that wrinkly tie to a pitch meeting, maybe make it a point to dress a little crisper for the next one (and the one after that). If you made a sarcastic remark (my specialty) and it didn’t come across as well as you thought, react a little more slowly and thoughtfully. Be consistent with the person you made the bad impression on and don’t rush it.

According to some science, it takes 8 positive interactions to change a negative impression. Other science says 5 positive interactions. I think the takeaway here is that it takes a lot more positive impressions (and a lot more time) to get rid of one negative one.

Be genuine

If you are truly a kind, gracious, and humble person, no one will hold it against you forever if they didn’t like you at first. Don’t force a relationship, though. Be your true self and show people the real you. Don’t try to make big gestures, since they might seem inauthentic and like you’re trying too hard. Take the time to build an honest relationship and remember that first impressions are just the beginning. Over time, perception can change and you can be the pilot of the way it changes.

On the flip side of all this is giving people the benefit of the doubt when you can. Remember that we all have to make first impressions and that we’re all imperfect people with flaws and quirks. Wouldn’t you want to know that someone didn’t immediately judge you or cast you off because of a small error?

It’s easier to become a sinner than a saint, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Don’t count yourself out when you don’t have to!

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