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A dose of truth – what does your non-verbal language say about you?

Posted by Vivian Wong on June 10, 2009

This is not the blog author

No... This is not the blog author

I took a personal development class last night as part of my ongoing effort to upgrade myself.

The instructor got us to do a fun exercise to get to know each other, and more importantly, ourselves.

The first part of the exercise was for each student to stand in front of the class and do a quick self-introduction. Piece of cake.

The second part of the exercise was way more fun. Each of us had to stand in front of the class again, and tell the class what first impressions we think we had left on others, and then we had to stand there and hear the brutal and honest truth from everyone in the class. (We were not allowed to justify ourselves or argue with the feedback – we just had to listen.)

Words that were used to describe individuals were: confident, attractive, engaging, arrogant, shy, fun, funny, sweet, friendly, aggressive, smart, nice, professional, comfortable, stylish, good looking, snobbish, present (live-in-the-moment), pretty, open, carefree, fashionable, self-conscious, nervous, well dressed, nerdy, honest and… bitchy.

Impressions were clearly formed by examining a speaker’s overall appearance and non-verbal language that includes style, expression, physical attributes in addition to hearing what the speaker had to say.

When it was my turn to stand up in front of 15 new faces, I was nervous and hoped that they’d use words like open and friendly.

I got way more than I had bargained for: friendly, confident, smiles a lot, smart, mature, interesting accent, stylish, accomplished, driven etc. (Boss, I think these guys need to be included in my next 360 review 😉 ).  My head started to swell until someone said: “You remind me of my aunt!” (I sure hope her aunt isn’t too mean or too old for what it’s worth.)

It turns out that the first impression I left on my fellow classmates was NOT based on my self-introduction in front of the class – it was mostly formed when others saw me walking into the lobby to talk with the receptionist (as it turns out, she was actually our instructor).

The first impression is often long lasting and you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. The first impression isn’t always formed when you stand in front of your audience, it happens much earlier than that.

So… what impressions do you THINK you leave on your interviewers, interviewees, employees, managers, colleagues, employers, customers, suppliers, friends and strangers?

What impressions do you WANT to leave on people?

Is there a difference? If so, can you or would you do something about it?

3 Responses to “A dose of truth – what does your non-verbal language say about you?”

  1. Meg Bear said

    So true and so scary isn’t it? I think of this a lot when raising my children, wanting them to be their best, most confident selves exactly for that reason.

    I must confess that I hope for the day when someone accidentally considers me stylish on first impression… I guess we each have our own gifts to focus on. Shockingly I get the word “outspoken” mentioned for me rather frequently ;-).

  2. Caroline said

    Great article, Vivian! I had my own “first impression” feedback about 15 years ago. Way back when we had “secretaries” I switched from one secretary to another. Once my new secretary at the time (let’s call her Phyllis) felt comfortable with me, she told me that she thought that I was a bit*h when she first met me, because I didn’t say hi when I previously walked by her desk. It turns out that I had been so focused on talking to my own secretary at the time (let’s call her Melanie) that I didn’t really even notice the other secretaries around her, and I certainly didn’t take any time to get to know them.

    When Phyllis told me about her first impression of me, it was a real eye opener for me, and I’m really glad that she shared that info with me! It’s a small world, and you never know who you will work with down the road, so it taught me I better not focus too much on my own current team. And, even though I didn’t realize that the other secretaries had ANY impression of me (since I didn’t work with them), I quickly realized that almost ANYONE can have first impressions of you, whether you realize it or not!!

  3. Vivian Wong said

    @Meg – Yes it was scary to be judged – especially by a group of strangers. It was also interesting to observe that shy people can unfortunately be thought less favorably than others as they can come across as being arrogant or snobbish even if that is completely untrue.

    @Caroline – what a great example, thank you for sharing your story! It’s so true that people form opinions of you whether you realize or not!

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