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Those First Few Seconds Part II

 Spokesperson & Media Personality 

Tonya Reiman

Body Language Expert

Speaker, Author, Consultant, 

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Those First Few Seconds Part II

A while back MSNBC called me and asked me if I would come into the studio, look at a few minutes of footage of Joran VanderSloot and determine if he was involved in the Natalee Holloway disappearance. In essence, they were asking me to observe Mr. Vandersloot's behavior. They were asking me to look at his body language, listen to his voice and focus on the meaning of his movements. Take a few thin slices of his life and draw a conclusion about him - form an impression.  This seems somewhat reckless doesn't it? Judging a man based solely on just a few short minutes of his life? Yet, we do this every day. we pass judgement on others based on their first impression. Of course, the stakes aren't usually this high but evaluating others is something we all do just about every day - usually several times per day.  it's automatic, something that our mind is naturally programmed to do. We form long lasting opinions about others in just moments, sometimes mere seconds. I want to teach you how to understand the complexities of the first impression so that you are able to master each and every communication encounter. 

 Research shows that our first impression of others is most often the one that sticks. Once our "entrance" has been made, it takes a lot of work to change that initial opinion.  Interestingly enough, most often those opinions are accurate and precise. Let's talk about this issue a little. Have you ever heard of speed dating? Speed dating is a new way of meeting people quickly and efficiently. Speed dating events are taking place everywhere you go. A friend of mine, after 20 years of working in the administrative field, quit her job to open a speed dating agency and, she is making more money now than ever. There are literally hundreds of speed dating businesses popping up all over the United States. Events organized by these speed dating companies are usually hosted by restaurants and bars where eligible singles meet for approximately 6-7 minutes and decide by checking off on a card, if they would like to meet up again. Once the event is over, companies will post mutually interested pairs onto their website. Is this the point we are at now? All the information we need to garner in order to make a potential life changing decision is made within 6-7 minutes. Can it be accurate? Research says YES. We really don't need much time to size up a person and make a decision. We must recognize that we are often judged on what others call intuition. What is intuition? Intuition is our unconscious ability to pick up and read body language. Body language is what we had before there was language and therefore it is primal to us.  We make that same judgement on others all the time. 

 But how do we know our intuition is correct? In studies done it was found that students are very good at predicting teacher effectiveness based on what is called thin slices. Researchers videotaped 13 teachers in their classroom in which they took three 10 second silent clips and showed the silent clips to students who did not know the teachers. These student then rated the teachers on 15 different personality traits. Researchers took those scores and compared them to end of semester evaluations by students of the same teachers. There was a very high correlation. To further test this theory the length of each clip was cut to 6 seconds and again down to 2 seconds. With each segment, the scores of the test students correlated with the scores of the active students confirming that students watching a small clip of a teacher will reach a very similar conclusion to that of students who spends an entire semester in the same teachers classroom. Initially they started with a 30 second clip which was well above average in correlation and ended with a 6 second clip which did not change the statistics. 

For many years we have questioned how those first few seconds really can make a difference. How much can we tune into? Our mind hands over a good deal of high level, sophisticated thinking to the unconscious which does a top-notch job of sizing up the world, alerting us of danger, setting goals, and taking action. Research has shown that using our unconscious mind, or using our intuition, can be quite effective. Let's talk about intuition - intuition is defined as instinctive knowing without the use of rational processes. Is that what is going on here? Experts believe that intuition is actually just a heightened sensitivity to body language. What actually happens during the first few fleeting seconds of an interaction? When you first encounter an individual millions of neurons in the brain become activated and based on different criteria, you categorize this person into a specific group. Essentially, your unconscious goes on autopilot and your mind begins to classify a person based on the things it knows best. 

The moment you see someone the process of filtering begins. Your brain instantly sifts through and places the individual into one of many categories. There are several different references points that the brain focuses on some of which are status (are you of high status or low status - typically, we are more attracted to those individuals in the high status bracket). Are you attractive, unattractive, or perhaps average? The brain begins to discern how you perceive yourself, for example How do you choose to display your personality? Do you wear bright colors, conservative eyewear, distinctive body markings? Are you overall flamboyant or more subdued? Each of these nuances is observed and then compared to what we already know (read that as believe). The unconscious mind then recollects all the people we have met and known during our lives, every book we read (including ones we thought we had forgotten), each movie that we watched whether funny, scary, sad or happy, places you have traveled and cultures you have learned as well as work and school experiences. This is all jumbled together, filtered and categorized and automatically a decision is made. The result? Your brain offers a final opinion. As you can see, this is not an optional occurrence. This is not a conscious decision making process; all this data is sorted, filtered, combined with additional complimentary data supplemented with new calculations and summarized. In the end, there is either a yes or a no response. 

Most of this is purely superficial, however, it is a decision that is usually unchangeable. You begin with an enormous amount of information which then gets whittled, refined and narrowed down until a final decision is made - usually that of a yes or no. Yes, you see an interest or no, they have absolutely no appeal to you. Does a yes guarantee a meeting? Absolutely not. You might come across several yes's per day and never engage a single one of them in conversation. All a yes means is that they subconsciously sparked an interest in you. What about the no's which we encounter every day. It is these people to whom we refer to as a nonperson - we barely recognize that they are there. They could be standing right next to us and we would have no inclination to even glance their way a second time. Other examples of obvious nonpersons would be: homeless people, waiters and waitresses, - perhaps even entire countries on a larger scale. And that is the way it works - a major decision is determined before you have even had an opportunity to speak to someone. 

You have said "yes" or "no" long before the thought of a conversation. 

If the initial response was a "no", this requires an immense amount of work to change so our goal is to anticipate the encounter and get a "yes" as often as possible. Let's discuss some criteria that people judge us on and how we can make the best of our attributes. Keep in mind that this is purely unconscious. The person making the judgment about you is unaware that it is happening and you are usually unaware that you are doing it as well - however, it is done by everybody, everywhere, everyday. 

What do people usually see first? The first thing noticed when approaching an individual is their walk, body posture, stance and proportion. 

The way you walk can be a powerful first impression. Walking slow with your head down can be an indicator that you are shy or distracted. It can also mean you are depressed or insecure. Bouncing around and looking in all different directions makes you appear lost. Walking while slightly slouching over gives the impression that you are exhausted. What is the best way to walk? A light walk with your head held high and your neck elongated, gives the look of confidence and energy. Take a look around at the power people, how do they walk? What kind of signals do you get from them. 

Another significant indicator of personality is how an individual stands. A person's posture or stance can provide a strong guide as to whether the person is fit or frail, clean or slovenly, shy or bold, nervous or relaxed, submissive or overbearing. Standing up tall offers that you are proud and confident. Slouching indicates laziness or shyness. How can you create good posture? Imagine an invisible vertical line dividing your body in half. Try to create a sense that each half is a mirrored image of the other. We know from research that symmetry in body form is an attractive quality which conveys a subconscious message of health. You should stand up tall and try not to shift all your weight onto one leg. In other words - be balanced. Then try to think of your spine as layers of thin blocks stacked neatly on top of each other with your head evenly perched on top. 

 Becoming aware of your posture takes practice and constant self awareness. Notice when you catch yourself slumping, and pick yourself back up. Over time you will find that it becomes second nature to find your alignment and relax into it. To really get a feel of how your spine is supposed to be aligned, lay on the floor on your back and bend your knees, so your feet are planted on the floor. Take a few deep breaths and allow your body to relax into a natural state. This is the feeling you should have when you are standing. 

Your weight sends out messages, whether fair or not, about your yes/no quotient. Research has indicated that men are biologically wired to prefer women with an hourglass figure - a waist to hip ratio of around 0.7 where the waist is 70% the size of the hips - because this is a sign of fertility, youth and health. Research has shown for men the preferential shape is that of a wedge shape or a V shape - women tend to prefer men with broad shoulders because an ample torso indicates masculine strength. Women also prefer men to be slightly taller than average in the range of 5'11-6'2. This sexual selection in the evolutionary process is in everyone of us and helps us to automate what we consider "good", "bad" or "yes" or "no". When a body fails to conform to the reigning ideal in today"s society, it can be seen as an indication of shame, low self esteem and insecurity. Interestingly, a large portion of our self esteem is based on non-verbal feedback we received from others beginning at a young age as well as messages we receive today. Don't allow the past to rule your future. 

The next few details we will discuss are items which can be changed quickly if you choose to do so. 

Facial expressions are one of the more important areas of nonverbal communication. Your expression can convey your emotion with much greater accuracy than words alone. Slight movements of the eyebrows alone can indicate feelings of interest, happiness or surprise. However, the eyebrows can also indicate anger or contempt. Slight curves of the mouth indicate to another that you are friendly, cheerful, likable and well adjusted. Facial tension can scream aggression as well as being quick tempered. A pleasant and natural demeanor can indicate self confidence and can also inwardly change your mood and energy level. Maintaining eye contact during those first few seconds can help to build credibility and trust. 

Gestures can confirm our emotional state at any given moment. Hair twisting, pen clicking and nail biting are all indications of nervousness. Natural gesticulators can make use of their hands and arms to deliver a clear and concise message and do so with ease. Others believe it comes naturally only to be seen as overbearing and obnoxious. You should become self aware of how you look and act: practice in the mirror or videotape yourself and make sure you keep your gestures close to your body for a professional impression. 

Your hair can send out a powerful message about your professionalism. For both men and women short hair needs to be kept stylish and neat. There is nothing wrong with long hair for women provided it is kept appropriately. Long hair in the business world can be a plus if it is held in a professional looking coiffure. 

What you are wearing speaks volumes about who you are. Dressing appropriately for the setting is what keeps you in the norm. Dressing to an extreme, either way, can be disastrous if you are trying to make a healthy first impression. Clothing gives an indication about your status. Because of this, you need to dress in a way that flatters your positive attributes and diverts attention away from any negative attributes. Dress in itself can communicate credibility, liability, and attractiveness. Regardless of the occasion, dressing appropriately is one of the easiest ways to make a positive impression. It may not guarantee success but it will certainly help. 

For women 
In the "real world" suits do tend to be the safest bet, however, a skirt or dress slacks with a blouse can still work nicely. When wearing skirts you need to make sure the hemline is to the knee and the color should be conservative. The suit should flatter your figure, however, not hug your body. Your blouse should cover you without any necessary camisoles. Shoes should always be a shade darker than your clothes. Never wear white shoes with black stockings and a black suit. Your heel should be approximately 2 inches. Natural colored pantyhose are best for maintaining a professional appearance. 

Jewelry and accessories: Keep jewelry conservative and to a minimum. Any other piercing other than ears should be removed. Pearls are very traditional in the business community. Try not to over- accessorize as this will make you appear overbearing. Pearls and conservative scarves will always be preferred choice. 

Makeup must be natural looking - colors that match your coloring. Nails should also be a more neutral color, clean and manicured. Hair, if long, should be neatly coifed and if short, clean and neat. 

Perfume should be applied very lightly if at all. Natural aromas are the most attractive aromas. Perfumes and deodorants hide those scents. However, studies show that natural scents stimulate the hypothalamus of both men and women resulting in a positive response. You don't want to be offensive, however, trace amounts of your own natural scent send a warm and emotionally arousing message. Your conversant may not be aware of this consciously, but scents can effect their blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. If you are looking for a light cover up - use musky, jasmine and fruity type scents layered with vanilla and/or amber. You want to make an impression - not clear a room.

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