by Norman Lanier, Ph.D, Corporate Psychologist & Executive Coach
John Ray was a Southern gentleman, colorful entrepreneur, race car driver and chef who I met when he was catering an Employee Appreciation Day event in Talladega, Alabama. He was friendly and easy to get to know, and he told me most of what went into his famous Secret Sauce for steaks.
Later on, I asked him about his views on making a good impression on people, and he shared his fundamental beliefs about how to build good relationships with others.
His words motivated me, including when he said, “You’re the psychologist, you tell me!”
How many times have you left a meeting, perhaps a first-time meeting with someone, asking yourself, “I wonder if he or she liked me? I wonder if I made a good impression?”
A sometimes humorous, always true statement is: You only have one chance to make a good first impression.
But how do you do that? How do you ensure that the impression you make with others is good, positive, and what you want it to be?
It is not the impression you make that matters most; it is the feelings you leave behind.
People spend a lot of time reflecting on what they can do to make the right kind of impression. Certainly, appearance is something to consider, along with dressing appropriately, communicating well and being responsive interpersonally. Being knowledgeable about one’s subject matter is also important. Communicating information compellingly is very important in some organizations—which includes being able to prepare impressive slide presentations.
In fact, people pay good money to look right, sound right and communicate convincingly.
But are these things the best things to develop and try to perfect?
Reflect for a moment: What causes you to like someone, or conversely, to not like someone?
Pause for another moment…think about it…
Is it how they dress? Is it how brilliant they are? Is it how polished or confident they are?
I don’t think so. I don’t think it is as much about how impressive they are, as it is about how you feel about yourself when you are with them.
Whether we like someone or not depends on how we feel about ourselves when we are in that person’s presence!
We are all self-absorbed (a psychological label would be egocentric). Actually, I know I am. I think it is unavoidable because I spend all my time with the same person—me. Other people cross my path, creep into my emotional existence and have some impact, but I spend all my time with me—I go to bed at night with me and the next morning, I wake up with that same person—me.
I am, by definition and near necessity, “wrapped up” in myself. It is difficult for me to stretch beyond my boundaries to “read” or evaluate others objectively. What happens is, I evaluate others based on how I feel about myself when I am with them.
If I am with Bob, for example, and I feel somewhat tongue-tied, not real clever and fairly awkward or self-conscious, when someone later asks me, “How did you like Bob?”, my response may vary, but it usually has elements of reservation or uncertainty. I may answer, “He seems smart, made a good impression and communicated well, but…”
After the word “but” come my personal emotional reactions such as, “He seemed sort of over-confident,” or, “I had a hard time getting a good read on him,” or, “He was impressive, but just okay,” or, “I probably would need to spend more time with him to get a better feel for him,” perhaps concluding, “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’m not so sure about Bob…”
If on the other hand, I am with Mary and feel keenly intelligent, creative, quite expressive and confident—guess what?
When later asked how I feel about Mary, my responses will be positive and relatively certain. “I liked her. I thought she was smart, made a good impression, was clear in her communications and a good listener. I can’t quite put my finger on all of it, but I liked her!”
I know that when I have been with people I liked extremely well, for a brief second or two, I felt as though I was at the center of their universe.
How you feel about someone is directly related to how you feel about yourself when you are in that person’s presence.
The overall concept, italicized three times above, constitutes the “Secret Sauce” for relationships. Many people know it, but may not have articulated it or even fully understood it. Highly successful sales people, politicians, promoters and legends like John Ray have discovered this secret. Sometimes those who know the secret try to explain it, but oversimplify it, perhaps intentionally or unintentionally leaving out some of the ingredients.
When you think about meeting a person or conducting a meeting with several attendees, remember: Don’t focus as much on what you can do to impress them; focus on how you want them to feel when they are with you, and how you want them to feel after you have left.
Do you want them to reflect, “Wow, Norm is really a smart guy and a nice dresser,” or would you rather they say, “Wow, I could really relate to Norm”?
© Copyright Norm Lanier, Ph.D, 2016