Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Keith Rollag Ph.D.
Keith Rollag Ph.D.
First Impressions

The Secret to Great First Impressions

A simple mantra for networking success.

Jayne Mattson
Source: Jayne Mattson

(co-authored with Jayne Mattson)

Whether we’re networking for a new job, joining a new group, or meeting our new neighbors, we all want to make a great first impression. But often we can be our own worst enemy and sabotage first impressions by talking too much or too little about ourselves.

One of us (Jayne Mattson, a career consultant and Founder of CareerEngage) has developed a simple-but-effective strategy to ensure we make positive first impressions with those with meet.

She suggests that the next time you introduce yourself (or get introduced) to someone new, remember four words:


After the initial handshake and name exchange, get other people talking about themselves (YOU…YOU) by asking questions, showing interest, and following up with more questions to learn more about their background and interests. Then find an opportunity to share something about yourself (…ME) and then try to end the conversation with a renewed focus on them (…YOU).

In other words, the best strategy for making a great first impression is NOT by trying to impress other people with your own qualities and success, but by ensuring they walk away from the conversation 1) feeling heard, valued and energized and 2) learning something positive and memorable about you.

Talking Too Much

In her years of coaching, Jayne has found that some people tend to talk too much about themselves. Some do it out of nervousness or fear of awkward pauses in conversations (and what those pauses imply). For others it’s simply because they gain energy by talking and can’t help themselves. For a few it’s an unhealthy ego and a belief they are one of the most interesting people in the world.

Either way, instead of YOU…YOU…ME…YOU the conversation ends up either:

ME…ME…ME…ME (and not only do you look self-absorbed but you also bore other people to death)

YOU…ME…ME…ME (and it becomes obvious that you’re not that interested in them)

ME…ME…ME…YOU (and the token display of interest at the end comes off as patronizing)

Talking Too Little

On the flip side, Jayne has found that some people tend to talk too little about themselves. For some it’s nervousness or uncertainty around what to say about themselves. For others it’s the difficulty of getting “air time” among highly talkative people. Either way, instead of YOU…YOU…ME…YOU the conversation ends up mostly YOU…YOU…YOU…YOU. While others may walk away from the conversation feeling energized, they remember nothing about you or why a continued relationship might be beneficial (other than that you’re a good listener).

Avoiding Conversational Ping Pong

If you’re lucky and you’re interacting with someone who also understands this strategy, you’ll likely have a more balanced, give-and-take conversation that energizes and satisfies both of you. But don’t assume that all conversations should be either ME…YOU…ME…YOU or YOU…ME…YOU…ME. Conversations rarely flow in such a rigid back-and-forth way, and if you’re waiting for the other person to reciprocate with a question every time you ask one, you’ll likely set yourself up for frustration.

How to Make YOU…YOU…ME…YOU Work

Jayne offers these six tips to make this a successful strategy:

  1. Try to ask 3-4 questions of the other person before talking about yourself.
  2. Build your next question off what they have just said. This shows you’re paying attention.
  3. Don’t forget the non-verbals. Show you’re interested by periodically establishing eye contact and leaning forward.
  4. As you start to talk about yourself, use what you’ve learned about the other person to selectively emphasize things that you have in common.
  5. As the conversation naturally reaches its end, ask one more question to bring the focus back to the other person. Look for opportunities to be helpful, whether it’s providing information, advice, support, or just momentary companionship.
  6. If it seems right, suggest meeting again to continue the conversation, and exchange contact information. Position your future meeting as an opportunity for mutual benefit.

All it Takes is Practice

Of course, YOU…YOU…ME…YOU isn’t a strict formula. But reminding yourself about it just before you meet someone new can help you avoid the traps of talking too much or too little, and ensure the other person walks away with not only a good first impression but a willingness to interact with you down the road. And it all starts with showing interest in others. As Dale Carnegie once said “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you!”

Jayne has used YOU…YOU…ME…YOU with many of her coaching clients and they’ve found it a simple way to reduce anxiety, build confidence, and increase their willingness to put themselves out there and build the relationships they need to find success and happiness.

About the Author
Keith Rollag Ph.D.

Keith Rollag, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Chair of the Management Division at Babson College.

More from Keith Rollag Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Keith Rollag Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today