I recently came to fully appreciate a phenomenon that I didn't give much thought to. You must have heard some version of...

The first 7 seconds of a meeting decide how the entire encounter / relationship will go.

That's a great tip for interviews, business meetings, etc. where you're focusing your energy for a short period of time and you want the meeting to go smoothly. But that's not what this article is about.

I now believe that every single relationship, business or personal, is driven heavily by first impressions.

For example, in a business context...

Let's say you're meeting a new manager. When you first meet each other, they will instinctively build an internal understanding of you:

  • Do they like you?
  • Do they trust you?
  • Do they think you're a good team member or not?

In the first few days, they'll have an understanding of you that they are comfortable with, a foundation to decide how they work with you.

As time goes on, an unbiased system would use all the available information to update that first impression – that's how a computer algorithm would do it if told to learn about you. However, humans being humans, the manager's understanding of you will skew massively to the initial impression from your first few days. If you veer from the initial impression, the manager will actively try to revert you back to it by supporting / impeding you.

Bottom line: Your first few encounters with anyone will establish the foundation of your relationship for a long time to come.

  • If you make a great first impression, mistakes later on will viewed as anomalies, and you'll get support from your manager to help improve, because they want you to fit to their initial impression – that's how their world makes sense.
  • If you make a bad first impression, even great performance later will not have the impact it should, and you'll find even small mistakes being called out.

So how do we use this phenomenon?

When you're meeting someone new, at work or in your personal life, over-invest in the first few encounters. With a new boss, work a few extra hours to polish your work or to take more responsibility than is asked. With a new friend, offer kind gestures like paying for their food, offering a ride, etc. A little extra effort here will go a long way.

I realised that the most common reason I was not doing this already, was because the first few encounters usually tend to go smoothly anyway. If a manager is being very nice to you in your first couple of days, why would you offer to work later than necessary? However if you think about it, the manager – or a new friend – is also trying to make a good first impression!

In my job, we tend to change project teams – and therefore managers – every few months. So I now always actively ignore how good the first few days are going and try to over-invest as much as possible, and have definitely noticed a positive change. Do try it out when you next have the opportunity!