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First Impressions

How to Make a Good First Impression

The art of getting other people to like you.

Key points

  • Some self-help authors recommend acting confident and assertive, others encourage their readers to show genuine concern for others.
  • Most self-help advice is based on personal experience, but new research studies impression formation in real-time.
  • While confidence can help, the research shows that showing warmth and concern for others is the best way to make good first impressions.
Source: NeonShot/Shutterstock

We all know how important it is to make a good first impression. The positive or negative feelings about us that a person develops during our initial interaction with them set the course for the relationship that follows. This is true whether we’re looking for a romantic partner, interviewing for a job, or just casually chatting with the people nearby.

There’s plenty of advice on the internet and in bookstores on how to make good first impressions. Much of it is contradictory since it’s based on the author’s personal experiences and pet theories of human behavior. To cut through the hype, German psychologists Michael Dufner and Sascha Krause decided to observe real-life first encounters to see which self-presentation strategies worked best.

Strategies for Building Good First Impressions

Dufner and Krause start with the observation that we strive to get others to like us for two reasons. One reason is to be popular. That is, we want people in general to like us. Being popular is important because it ensures that we’re accepted within our social groups, which is important for our mental health and well-being.

The other reason is what the researchers refer to as unique liking. We sometimes strive to make a good first impression on a specific individual. The obvious scenario is trying to impress a potential romantic partner. But unique liking is an important building block for friendships as well.

The researchers also noted that there are two general approaches to making good first impressions. The first approach is known in the science of social interactions as agency.

For instance, the authors of many self-help books urge their readers to build up their confidence by chanting affirmations in front of a mirror, based on the idea that people are attracted to those who act self-assured and dominant. Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking may be the best-known self-help book that advocates for this approach, but books offering advice on pick-up techniques or climbing the corporate ladder promote an agency approach as well.

The second approach to making good first impressions is referred to as communion. A good example of the communion approach can be found in Dale Carnegie’s perennial best-seller How to Win Friends and Influence People. The author recommends an approach high in warmth and friendliness in this book.

According to Carnegie, you get people to like you by showing a sincere interest in them. That is to say, communion is an approach to getting others to like you by showing concern for their wellbeing.

Watching How People Form First Impressions in Everyday Life

To get observations of real-life first impression building in action, Dufner and Krause invited young men and women to participate in a series of speed-dating sessions. Each male talked with each female for five minutes in each session, and all interactions were videotaped. After each interaction, the conversation partners rated how likable they found the other person to be and how much they’d like to get to know that person.

The researchers then analyzed each video to assess the degree to which each conversation partner had employed agency or communion strategies. They then compared each person’s first-impression strategies with their partner’s rating of them. In this way, they could assess agency and communion strategies' success.

While it’s true that we form an impression of a new acquaintance within minutes of interacting with them, the researchers rightly point out that first impressions take shape even before a single word has been spoken. That’s because we develop an initial sense of whether we like someone based solely on their looks. We then modify that initial impression based on the first few minutes of our initial interaction with them.

To make sure the liking rates that the researchers obtained truly reflected the influence of agency and communion strategies, they first had the participants look at a picture of each person they would be interacting with and rate them on how much they like them and would like to get to know them better. The researchers then subtracted this initial score from the final score to get the effect of communication style alone.

These individual ratings were used to assess unique liking. However, the researchers also averaged together each person's ratings to create a popularity score.

Showing Confidence in Yourself and Concern for Others

So, do you make better first impressions using an agency or a communion approach? The answer to that question, the researchers found, depends to some degree on what kind of first impression you’re trying to make. When it comes to unique liking, a communion approach in which the person showed genuine interest in their conversation partner was more effective. In fact, partners usually rated an agency approach in which the person acted confident and dominant as unlikeable.

When it comes to popularity, though, a dash of agency in the form of confidence, boasting, and dominance can actually increase how much people like you. But this is only true if you add this on top of a base of communal behavior. That is to say, confidence can be sexy, but only if you first show how much you care about others.

In the end, both Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale were right to some extent. Carnegie was right to say that you win friends and influence people by being nice to them. But once you’ve done that, Peale was correct that you could boost your popularity even more by showing others you have confidence in yourself.

The take-home message from Dufner and Krause’s research is clear. While confidence can help, showing that you’re genuinely interested in the other person counts most in making good first impressions. This is true whether you’re looking for a friend or a lover and whether you’re just trying to impress one person or everyone in the room. And when you adopt a general attitude of concern for others, it will already show on your face before you utter a word.


Carnegie, D. (1936). How to win friends and influence people. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Dufner, M. & Krause, S. (2023). On how to be liked in first encounters: The effects of agentic and communal behaviors on popularity and unique liking. Psychological Science. Advance online publication.

Peale, N. V. (1952). The power of positive thinking. Hoboken, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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