Making positive first impressions is critical to building strong personal and professional relationships. However, we often engage in habits that can inadvertently give off the wrong impression and cause people to form negative opinions of us. Becoming more self-aware and adjusting certain behaviors can help us become more appealing when meeting new people.
Based on nonverbal cues and initial exchanges, first impressions tend to form rapidly within the first few seconds to minutes of an interaction. Research has shown it can be challenging to overcome initial negative evaluations. Thus, being cognizant of our visible habits ahead of time and making minor tweaks can be impactful.
The goal is not to judge ourselves harshly but to bring awareness to opportunities for growth. With some effort toward self-reflection and intentional behavior change, we can all make the kind of positive first impression that draws people in and builds the strong bonds we desire, whether at work, socially, or romantically. The rewards of putting our best foot forward are immense.
1. Poor Listening Skills
Failing to demonstrate active listening is a significant barrier to likability. When you don’t make eye contact, frequently interrupt, appear distracted, or don’t ask thoughtful follow-up questions, people get the impression you don’t care what they’re saying. This makes them feel unimportant.
Focus your attention fully on the speaker, limiting distractions. Nod to show interest and leave natural pauses for them to continue before responding. Avoid finishing their sentences. Ask questions to show you’ve processed what they’re saying and would like to learn more.
For example, James noticed new colleagues would often end conversations with him abruptly. He started consciously maintaining eye contact, not interrupting, and asking more questions about their backgrounds and interests. They opened up more and seemed to enjoy chatting with him.
Few things sour first impressions faster than arrogance. Humblebragging on social media, one-upping others’ stories, name-dropping, and oversharing accomplishments convey ego, not confidence. Allow others to highlight your wins naturally.
Keep the conversation focused on learning about the other person. If sharing successes, pivot quickly to asking about their experiences and perspectives. People are drawn to humility and openness to differing viewpoints, not self-absorption.
When Lisa moved to a new city, she avoided mentioning past accolades. Instead, she asked new acquaintances about their backgrounds, companies, and hobbies—taking a genuine interest in them, rather than touting herself, organically built connections.
3. Judging or Criticizing
Making negative assumptions, gossiping, voicing unsolicited opinions, and having a superior attitude can irreparably damage new relationships. Avoid reading into others’ behaviors or disclosing colleagues’ private information.
Remain open-minded and avoid labeling people based on limited interactions or stereotypes. Keep unprompted criticism to yourself until you’ve built trust and understanding. If touched on sensitive topics, listen thoughtfully to understand, not attack.
Matt struggled to make friends due to complaining about coworkers and judging others’ choices. He caught himself when making assumptions about new people and focused on finding common ground. His conversations became more positive, and he expanded his network.
4. Disregarding Personal Space
Not respecting physical boundaries and privacy greatly disturbs people. Standing too close, touching without permission, asking intrusive questions, and ignoring social cues can make others severely uncomfortable.
Notice body language, tone, and facial expressions that may signal unwanted contact or information sharing. Slowly build rapport before inquiring about sensitive subjects. Casual acquaintances warrant more distance than close friends.
Daniel noticed coworkers leaning away when he approached. He started leaving more physical and conversational space, waiting for cues that his presence was welcome. This put coworkers at ease and strengthened those relationships.
Monopolizing conversations about yourself, revealing private details too soon, and venting negativity indicate self-absorption. People fear becoming your therapy sounding board. Limit me-focused discussions and learn about others instead.
Build trust slowly by sharing neutrally about hobbies or interests vs. life problems. Ask the other person questions and identify common interests. Avoid sensitive disclosures unless the relationship warrants it. Listen more than you speak.
James’ patterns of complaining about his job and family life were off-putting to potential friends. He shifted to discussing neutral topics like sports, food, and weekend plans. People found these lighter talks enjoyable and felt comfortable opening up themselves.
6. Bad Hygiene
Smelling unpleasant, having dirty clothing and an unkempt appearance, and demonstrating poor manners repels people immediately. Basic cleanliness and etiquette show respect, especially when interacting closely at work or socially.
Showering, wearing deodorant, brushing your teeth, washing clothes, and taming messy hair provide a baseline level of presentability. Carry a handkerchief to cover sneezes and coughs. These simple habits make you pleasant to be around.
After an HR warning about body odor, Tom started showering daily, using deodorant, and keeping a fresh shirt at work. His improved hygiene helped colleagues feel comfortable working alongside him on projects.
7. Constantly Checking Your Phone
Frequently checking your phone signals distraction and disinterest. Keep your phone stowed when conversing in person or on video calls. Nothing frustrates people more than competing for your attention.
Let calls go to voicemail and set the phone to do not disturb when focused on an individual or group. Make eye contact and listen attentively rather than dividing your focus. During meals or activities, stay present in the moment.
Alicia’s phone use during lunches annoyed her coworkers, who felt ignored. She silenced notifications and committed to being fully present during meetings and meals. Colleagues appreciated the change and began including her more in conversations.
Being mindful of habits that may rub people the wrong way goes a long way in building personal and professional relationships. Avoid ego-driven behaviors, respect others’ privacy and time, and focus outwardly rather than only on yourself. With increased self-awareness and a few essential adjustments, you can immediately put your best foot forward and have people like you.
What’s one habit you could work on to improve first impressions? Consider asking a trusted friend for input. Investing in these simple changes can positively impact your connections and opportunities.