25 Apr 2022

How to make a great impression

Social encounters during the Covid pandemic involved rapid recalibration. We had to be aware of social distancing, and therefore were forced to stand disconcertingly far apart. We had to acknowledge that many people would be reluctant to shake hands or hug, and many of us experienced the strange social dance of avoidance and retreat. Our conventional social signals had been upended, and many felt disconcerted, and sometimes even insulted, by the resulting awkwardness.

But now we are beginning to return to normality, and conventional social gestures, such as handshakes, are making a comeback. We still need to be aware of social distance, but British people have never been conventionally close-talkers or particularly physically demonstrative, so traditional body language is more than acceptable.

Your first encounter with anyone involves the lightning-fast sifting of a battery of first impressions. These will range from the obvious – appearance, voice, handshake, eye contact – to the subtle and barely acknowledged – deportment, body language, facial expressions. But you can be sure that, just as you make hundreds of these judgements every day, so you yourself are being assessed and judged. So ensure that you are not found wanting.

The signs of creepiness are indisputable and universally acknowledged: standing too close, touching strangers too frequently, inability to make eye contact, sweaty and limp handshakes, lack of facial expressions. But conversely, over-compensation can be equally unsettling – over-exaggerated facial reactions, laser-like eye contact and vigorous hand-pumping will only disconcert.

As in all things, the middle way is the best. You should never look as if you are trying too hard, but should aim for an air of relaxed ease. Listen carefully, even if your companion is an out-and-out bore, don’t interrupt, and maintain an air of interest. Never let your eyes drift to more interesting people/conversations/objects – even if anything, including inanimate objects, seems more riveting than your current conversation.

Try not to fidget or fiddle. Don’t play with your hair or beard, and try to avoid touching your face, for example putting a hand over your mouth or rubbing your eyes. Picking at your nails, or even worse, biting them, is a real no-no. Take a leaf from the pandemic rule-book, and turn away to cough or sneeze, preferably into a handkerchief, or failing that, into the crook of your elbow, never your hand.

Keep your distance, don’t intrude into personal space, don’t touch (unless you’re flirting). Keep your facial expression reasonably animated and – unless the subject matter is deadly serious – try and keep smiling. Stand up straight, no slouching.

Above all, eliminate all signs of self-consciousness. Looking as if you’re hyper-aware of the impression you’re making (whether it’s good or bad) is the worst mistake of all…

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