By Carlin Flora, published on May 1, 2004 - last reviewed on July 11, 2014
Curb Conversational Narcissism
He's talking about his new Subaru, which reminds you of the battle you waged—and won—with that smarmy Hertz-rental-car dealer in Miami last month. This "faux segue" is a big no-no, says psychologist and business consultant Valerie White. "We are tempted to share impressive things about ourselves, but the one idea you should keep in mind is 'How am I making the other person feel?' " Actively encourage others to talk about themselves, and respond genuinely—without bringing it back to you.
"If you're not quick-witted or well-versed in certain subjects, you can still make a great impression," White says. Just focus on the other person. This in turn will take the pressure off you. However, avoid interrogating a new acquaintance. If you're jittery, control movements such as leg twitching. And remember to speak slowly—nervousness makes us talk too fast.
"Be yourself" is solid first-impression advice from cognitive scientists and self-help gurus alike. But it's worth suppressing a bad mood when you meet someone new. While you know you are just experiencing a momentary state, a new acquaintance will take you for a full-time complainer. "There is a contagion effect," says White. "A bad mood will bring the other person down, too. Try to start off well, and then share what's bothering you."
If you want to get to know a stranger, break with body language conventions by catching her eye for more than a second. When you first meet someone, author and lecturer Nicholas Boothman says, focus on your eye contact, your smile and your posture. "If you notice somebody's eye color, and you say 'great' to yourself, you will actually be smiling, and you will give off a super mood."
Adjusting your posture, voice, words and gestures to match those of a new acquaintance is critical, says Boothman, because we are attracted to others who are just like us. "People respond when you speak at their pace," agrees White. To establish an instant rapport, mirror your new friend's head nods and tilts.
Use Flattery, Sparingly
"People like to be flattered," says White. "Even if they suspect you are brownnosing, they still like it." But use flattery judiciously—focus on the other person's accomplishments or achievements. This works best when a person believes you don't say ingratiating things to just anyone.
You arrive at a party fuming over a parking ticket. A cheery guest introduces herself, but you brush her off and head for the bar. You've made a bad impression, but you can recover if you demonstrate self-awareness, says White. Pull her aside and say, "I wasn't myself earlier." Show your sense of humor: "I see you met my evil twin." And remember to cut others slack if they make a bad impression on you.