Make First Impressions Count

June 27, 2016“How do you feel about your potential business partner? What does your gut tell you?”

Gut feelings – good or bad – can make or break a negotiation. And little has a greater impact on how you feel, and how your counterpart feels about you, than first impressions. In fact, the research finds that first impressions disproportionately impact our perceptions.

With this in mind, how can we maximize the positive impact of our first impressions on our counterparts? And how can we better evaluate our initial assessments of others?

Consider how to strategically influence the following:

1. Your message and goals

Do you want to initially send the message that you’re aggressive but reasonable? Or that you work well in teams? Or that you’re a risk-taking entrepreneurial type? Or that you’re a reliable, respected professional? Or a combination?

What is your goal with that first impression? How do you want your counterpart describe you after they’ve reached a first impression? Your strategy should derive from this.

2. The context

Initial impressions often are driven by the person or way in which we first come into contact with our counterparts.

I was recently with a client in Canada who offered to introduce me to one of his business colleagues, who could also become a client. This potential client’s first impression of me will come from a friend, colleague and reference, which is a huge advantage.

You can often achieve this advantage with research ahead of time. Numerous online resources, social media, and networking platforms can help you determine if you have contacts, clients, or interests in common.

You may be able to reach out to a mutual acquaintance to facilitate an introduction, or at least mention the relationship in your initial meeting.

Of course, the principle applies to you as well. Make sure your online and social media presence, posted by you and about you by others, communicates the right signals. Your reputation will almost always precede you.

3. How you make, or reply to, the first contact

Should you initially meet in person, by phone, or in writing?

I often recommend initial personal meetings if at all feasible. It's the optimal environment to develop positive first impressions, especially in our technology-driven world. Companies spend a ton of money to send folks halfway around the world just to make the right first impression. They should.

Investment bankers also regularly set up personal meetings so their sellers can meet potential buyers. Why? To get and make first impressions and find out who has that crucial “connection."

I once consulted on a deal where our entire deal team flew 3,000 miles for a 2-hour meeting with the private equity group that was considering whether to buy my client’s company. This deal would not have occurred but for that meeting and the first impressions formed there.

Also consider: where to initially meet (formal or informal restaurant or bar, office conference room or personal office, a coffee place, etc.); whether to include food or a meal or a drink (over breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or for coffee or wine, etc.); and how you appear (business suit, casual business attire, jeans, etc.).

Each decision here sends a different signal.

4. Building rapport

Research shows that effective negotiators ask at least twice as many questions as others. Make sure you ask questions about them and listen, not just talk.

And build rapport and connect by exploring common personal interests, like sports, family, kids or music. Don’t just talk business. In fact, consider sharing some personal elements on which you can build deeper connections.

Of course, this needs to be sincere and natural. Otherwise it may appear manipulative, which would be counterproductive.

I still remember a 3-hour dinner I had with a new client in Nashville years ago. We touched on many personal and business subjects that affected our lives.

Our connection, based on that first impression, remains strong to this day.

Latz’s Lesson: First impressions lead to lasting conclusions. Make them count.

* Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company, and ExpertNegotiator Software, web-based software that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Latz@ExpertNegotiator.com.