Rachel Premak, writing for a career assistance website Ladders, (https://www.theladders.com) wrote an article about things people decide within seconds of meeting you. First impressions are of particular importance to us as trial lawyers. We know that jurors, like everyone else, are continually forming impressions. When they are called to jury service they have a lot of questions and are searching for information. They are looking at people involved in the trial and wondering about their roles as well as forming impressions before we speak. As a result, before we even open our mouth as lawyers, the jurors are forming impressions about us. When we do speak, impressions they form occur within seconds.
Science has established that human beings size each other up quickly. In general first impressions occurred in just seven seconds of seeing or meeting someone. The impressions are influenced by a number of factors including facial shape, vocal inflection, attractiveness and our body language. It is significant that once we have an initial impression of someone it is difficult to change that opinion.
The most critical thing that people decide in less than a second on meeting us is whether we are trustworthy. The most important tool in persuasion we possess is trustworthiness. There is nothing more important to us as trial lawyers. Research done at Princeton involved giving a group of university students milliseconds to appraise attractiveness, confidence, likability, aggressiveness and trustworthiness of people whose photos they were shown. Members of another group were allowed to take as much time as they wanted in making the same evaluations. The surprising outcome of the study was that the judgments were identical for the group that could take as much time as they wanted as the group that only had one 10th of the second to decide. That’s how fast first impressions impact the significant question of whether we are trustworthy or not.
Some of the factors that this judgment is based upon are things we really can’t change. For example, the article points out that more feminine, baby like and happy faces are perceived to be more trustworthy generally. But there are things we can and should change. Body language is also significant. We are able to alter body language to increase trust in ourselves. That’s done by smiling more, leaning forward, looking people in the eye and mirroring the other person’s body language. In fact, body language is one of the first things a person will notice upon meeting you. If you are not standing straight and are slouched or with a closed arm position, you send a message of not being open and friendly. Standing straight up with your shoulders back and arms to your side with head up indicates you are enthusiastic and open. When listening to someone else facing that person with your shoulders squared with your hands at your side and maintaining eye contact demonstrates that you are focusing entirely on the person.
In a study done at Loyola Marymount University it was found that by simply looking the other person in the eye with good eye contact was a significant factor in creating an immediate impression about how intelligent you are. Maintaining good eye contact while listening is an extremely important part of making a good impression. Don’t look at your notes or look away when the other person is speaking.
In a British study it was determined that if you want to create an impression of being successful you should wear clothes that reflect success. Participants who studied photos of people in tailored suits and photos of those in other suits for five seconds overwhelmingly determined that the people in tailored suits were more successful. The phrase “dressing for success” has validity. Dressing appropriately is very important first impressions. When we look successful and act confident others have more confidence in us.
In conclusion, the list of factors that impact first impressions include these:
- Be polite
- Dress well – we do judge a book by its cover
- Stay focused on the other person
- Be enthusiastic
- Be confident
- Call people by their correct names
- Speak clearly
- Actively listen
- Maintain eye contact