Experts say that it can only take one-tenth of a second to make a first impression and, once that impression is made, it can be very hard to change. For business owners, working hard to network with others in their respective industries, a bad first impression can be disastrous, especially if the person has an influence over others in the industry.
As difficult as it can be to get past a bad initial meeting, there are some things a professional can do, especially in the moments following the gaffe. Here are a few suggestions for business owners who have made a mistake in an early meeting with an important connection.
1. Don’t assume the worst.
When you say the wrong thing, it’s easy to assume the mistake is foremost on everyone’s minds. In actuality, it’s likely not as glaringly obvious as it seems. Instead of magnifying the situation, admit to yourself that the other person may not have even noticed the mistake and move forward.
2. Issue an apology.
When it’s obvious you’ve made a bad impression, often the best course of action is to issue an immediate apology. The apology should be sincerely from the heart and offered as soon as possible. If you simply made the mistake because you were nervous, let the other person know. He or she may be flattered by the amount of respect you have and be more forgiving than if you left without explanation or made up a flimsy excuse.
3. Go in a different direction.
Some professionals have found that the best way to overcome a bad first impression is to show a completely different side of themselves. If you’ve made a joke and it’s fallen flat, follow up by showing your serious side. If you feel that you’ve overreached in your efforts to be professional and come across as pompous or rude, try to lighten the mood with a little self-deprecating humor. Often revealing a completely different side of yourself can make a difference in showing that someone can’t get to know you in just a few seconds.
4. Involve a mutual associate.
Chances are, you share a common colleague, especially if you work within the same industry. Ask the mutual associate to speak to the person and explain that you realize you made a bad first impression and it wasn't truly representative of you. Often the word of a trusted colleague can make a bigger impact than an apology from someone who is essentially a stranger.
5. Have patience.
After a negative first impression, eight subsequent positive encounters are necessary to change a person’s perception of you, according to a Harvard University study. This means that even though the other person might accept your apology and explanation for your behavior, you may be required to put extra time in to show that you aren’t the person someone assumes you to be. Allow plenty of time and don’t force it.
6. Recognize you can’t please everyone.
Despite every effort on your part, there simply will be some people who don’t have a positive impression of you. This may have nothing to do with anything you’ve said or done, instead coming from personal preferences beyond your control. It’s unlikely any one person is the sole key to your success as you build your business, so in some instances, it’s best to just walk away and focus on the many people who do like you.
As hard as a professional may work to make a good first impression, sometimes the worst can happen. With the right corrective action, a person can turn a negative initial meeting into a positive long-term working relationship. And don't forget, some people just aren't going to like you, and there's nothing you can do about it. The earlier you move on and focus your efforts elsewhere, the happier you'll be.