You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression

In the second in his regular series of articles, international negotiator, author and trainer, Derek Arden, looks at how to create the right impression when successfully negotiating, either online or offline.

In this article, I want to talk about successful negotiating habit number two - impression management. Creating the right climate for a ‘win-win’ negotiation is important for the outcome of any negotiation – and also for the strength of the ongoing relationship.

Interestingly, Professor Robert Cialdini calls the climate part of negotiation the ‘Presuasion’ in his book of the same name. Getting the climate right, the connecting, the rapport, the small talk before you start to influence and negotiate, is absolutely vital.

Someone famously said: “You don’t get a second chance to create a first impression”. Make sure that you create the right impression appropriate to your image and your brand. People tend to remember the first meeting with anyone - the first date, the first argument - and those impressions are generally impregnated into the brain to stay forever.

When I was a director at Barclays, working in the large corporate banking division, I remember a bright young man coming for an interview with Mickey Mouse socks on. David, my boss, said to me: “I thought he was a very good candidate, but he can’t have the job wearing those socks!” I had to persuade David that perhaps that was not the best reason to turn him down.

So, how can you create the right impression?

People are influenced by people like themselves. It’s called the ‘people like me’ phenomenon (PLM). It can help you if you create a fantastic first impression, similar to the other person.

So, how can we go about this? 

Research the players on social media. What are they like, what can we learn about them? Linkedin can give you a great deal of information and is much under-used in my view. It can tell you where people were brought up, the school they went to, hobbies, family – it’s all there. Congratulate them on their profile when you meet. This gives time to build rapport, which is important for later. When you have rapport, you can ask more difficult questions without upsetting the other side or making them defensive. Genuine compliments are very powerful.

Always be early for meetings. You can choose where you sit and how you set up the room. Tracy Hooper in her book, The New Hello, recommends that for virtual meetings five minutes early is on time. On time is late. It allows you to connect with the people, as the meeting will probably start bang on time.

Warm friendly handshakes, elbow touches, fist bumps can be replaced on Zoom with a smile and a wave. And, remember to sit reasonably close to your camera so you don’t look further than arm’s length away.

Be face to face in a meeting room. Avoid sitting across the table, as it will create a psychological confrontation below the level of conscious awareness. And nowadays, allow for social distancing.

A business deal is generally said to be an arms-length transaction. If you sit across a large table, your special distance will be more than two arms-lengths – thereby creating the feeling that we are literally and metaphorically a long way apart.

Dress appropriately for the person and the style of meeting. Perhaps slightly better than the others. Offer coffee, tea or water to break the ice and create reciprocity. Sit up attentively in listening mode and on Zoom have your camera at eye level and look into it when you talk. Eye to eye, even on virtual meetings. It works. Trust me. There is nothing worse than looking down on people and them looking up to you (no one likes people looking down on us). Ceilings / bright windows, untidy backgrounds are distracting, so be careful.

Finally, it has been said that a first impression is like a bucket of quick-drying cement. If you mess it up, it might take years to correct, or maybe you never correct it, as it’s embedded in the other people’s minds. 

So, make sure you’re first impression is a good one. You won’t get a second chance!

Derek Arden has been working for over 25 years as an international negotiator, author and trainer. Find out more at www.derekarden.co.uk or contact him at derek@derekarden.co.uk