Impact Your Impression
By Chelse Benham
“Your manners are always under examination, and by committees little
suspected, awarding or denying you very high prizes when you least expect it.” –
Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s a perennial favorite of business advice - how to create the best impression.
What is really being evaluated is human interaction and the myriad of ways that
people form opinions of others. It’s an evaluation of how opinion is influenced by
what we say, how we act and how we look.
“We offer a proper dining etiquette workshop and workplace professionalism
workshop to students,” said Velinda Reyes, assistant director at The University of
Texas-Pan American’s Career Placement Services Office. “These workshops
give helpful tips to students to assist them as they start their first job. It helps
them to brush up on how to conduct themselves and create the best impression.”
Ann Demarais and Valerie White, psychologists and authors of “What You Don’t
Know About How Others See You,” states in their book that impressions are all
about connecting or bonding with people and putting them at ease. Mood is
crucial. Be careful and be aware that the mood you are in may, ultimately send
the wrong message. The first impression someone has about you leads to
In Readers Digest, March 2004, Demarais states, ”You may assume that
someone who appears upbeat is also smart, likable and successful, even though
you’ve never seen evidence of those qualities. You may also assume that
someone who complains a lot is boring, unsociable and weak.”
Demarais continues to point out that the first information you see or learn about
someone is weighed more heavily than what you learn about them later. Both
Demarais and White break down first impressions into several fundamental
• being able to radiate accessibility; seeming approachable;
• showing a clear interest in others through body language;
• sharing little information about yourself to form a personal bond;
• knowing what topics to talk about during a first meeting;
• feeling positive about yourself, your life and the world you live in; and
• having that elusive sex appeal.
In the Readers Digest article “Knock Their Socks Off” by Doug Colligan,
Demarais offers tips to improve impressions one leaves with others, it’s reprinted
• Make eye contact at least half to two-thirds of the time (any more than this
and you may come on too strong). Pay attention to our body language.
Lean toward others when they speak. Nod every now and then.
• Smile, even if you aren’t in the mood. “We actually encourage our clients
to fake it,” Demarais said. “It’s a gift of social generosity, with a payback.”
Just going through the motions of showing some teeth may make you –
and others – feel better, says the research.
• Be careful about “oversharing” i.e., disclosing too much personal
information about yourself. Keep it light. Keep it positive. No on – repeat –
no one will be interested in your gallbladder operation.
• Try a little flattery. People warm to others who pay them compliments
even if they know they’re false, studies show. “But it’s best when done
sincerely,” Demarais stresses.
• Got a prepared opening line as an ice breaker? Ditch it, or you risk coming
across as shallow, aggressive and calculating.
• Check your impulse to use the other person’s name repeatedly. Once or
twice might work, but overplaying the name game can make you seem
“salesy” and forced.
• Think a neutral, inscrutable style makes you appear thoughtful, deep or
cool? Forget it. Aloof behavior like kicking back at the table, crossing your
arms or showing zero emotion makes you look bored or arrogant.
Learning proper etiquette can also help ensure that you leave a positive
impression. Sue Fox, author of “Etiquette for Dummies,” writes, “Etiquette is your
key to surviving every human contact with your sense of humor and your self-
esteem intact, and your reputation enhanced…In the world of etiquette, poise is
the process of evaluating a situation (weighing it) and responding in a way that
moves things toward the desired outcome. Another way to think about poise is to
associate it with the word leadership. When you take the lead in putting people at
ease and making every situation pleasant, you exhibit real poise…That’s what
politeness is all about…taking the time to evaluate the needs and intentions of
others, and behaving in a way that ensures a pleasant outcome.”
Fox devotes chapter 26 to “Ten Common Etiquette Mistakes” and the chapter is
1. Making introductions in the wrong order – Always introduce the lower-
ranking person to the higher-ranking person, as in, “Mr. Jones, I would like
to introduce Robin, my administrative assistant.” Introducing your boss to
a junior colleague is a break of etiquette.
2. Showing up late for an important date – Be on time. Showing up late is
disrespectful of other people’s time.
3. Resting elbows on the table – Never place your arms or elbows on the
table while you eat. When in doubt about what to do with your hands place
them in your lap.
4. Waving the white flag: improper napkin use – As soon as you sit down
to eat, place your napkin, folded in half, on your lap. If the event is very
formal, wait for the host and guest of honor to place their napkins on their
laps before doing so yourself. Don’t wave or shake your napkin like you’re
hanging out laundry. Also, never use your napkin to wipe your face or your
lipstick. Use it to blot.
5. Explaining too much when excusing yourself – If you need to excuse
yourself, you don’t need to give a lengthy explanation about where you are
going. Quietly say, ”Excuse me,” and don’t make a fuss – don’t announce
a visit to the restroom or anything else. If an emergency comes up and
you must leave for good before the meal is over, make a brief apology,
indicate when you will next talk with important guests or clients, and leave
with as little other interruption as possible.
6. Drinking to yourself – If someone makes a toast to you, never take a
drink – not even a sip. If someone toasts you, simply acknowledge the
toast by nodding and smiling.
7. Making remarks that embarrass or offend others – Avoid death,
surgery and illness as topics of discussion. Other topics to avoid include
religion, politics, salaries and office gossip. Instead, turn the conversation
to current events in the world or in your industry, mutual friends, hobbies,
sports or food.
8. Cutting in on conversations – If you feel the urge to cut in on someone
else’s sentence with a fascinating tidbit of information that you think
makes you look witty or erudite, sit back and wait a second. Don’t
9. Speaking loudly – Speaking loudly in public, especially in restaurants, is
common nowadays. It’s not the loudest person who impresses, it’s the
person who has quiet confidence and good manners.
10. Flubbing a phone call – The impression you create on the telephone can
be a lasting one, so make sure that your voice and manner show you in
the most professional light. Callers base their opinions of you on what you
say and how you say it. Answering the phone promptly is the first step.
Treat every call that you receive as important. In business try to answer
the phone before the second ring. Always begin the call by introducing
yourself and identifying your company. When dealing with two calls at
once, remember that the person you called always maintains priority.
Finally, make sure to follow through on phone calls. If you promise
information, try to call back promptly, or have someone else call back for
you if you can’t do so yourself.
Why leave the first impression to fate. Learn all that you can about how to
present yourself. Go into every new meeting well prepared. Practice the art of
introductions and social interactions. Increase your chance of success with
everyone you meet then you’ll never have to play catch-up trying to undo the
damage from the first impression.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that
awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.” - Emily Post