238: The Ingredients of a Great First Impression with Ann Demarais

By December 6, 2017Podcasts

 

Executive coach Ann Demarais highlights ways to become more socially generous and how to make an awesome first impression.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most common interpersonal flaws–and how to fix them
  2. Four universally-appreciated social gifts that you can give
  3. How to bounce back from a bad first impression

About Ann 

 

Ann Demarais, the founder of First Impressions, has more than 20 years of experience in applied psychology, specializing in interpersonal communication, impression management, social skills, and executive coaching. She works with senior executives who want to enhance their leadership impact.  She was a consultant to the Social Intelligence Program at Columbia University Business School; her client list includes Verizon, Hilton Hotels, Disney, Bank of America, Xerox, CitiGroup, JPMorgan, and the FBI among many others.  Ann is co-author of First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You, which was published by Random House and translated into 24 languages.  Ann holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from New York University.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ann Demarais Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ann, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Ann Demarais
Oh, I’m so excited, Pete. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I think we’re going to have so much fun at the end of this. And I understand that there is an interesting backstory behind your company First Impressions. Can we hear it?

Ann Demarais
Well, I started First Impressions from doing a lot of executive coaching and leadership workshops in the corporate world, and I realized that the core skills that actually make you awesome at work and in life are interpersonal skills and self-presentation, so I took some of the corporate methodologies to the personal world as well, and give people feedback by how they come across not just in business settings but in job interviews and even simulated first states. And we do seminars on these topics, so it’s really a deep dive into self-presentation.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, simulated first states, is that something that you came up with as a means of helping folks improve their skills? Or how did that emerge?

Ann Demarais
Yes, we realized that this kind of methodology of giving people feedback about how they come across is really, really powerful but was only available to people in the corporate world or actually in the other end in like psychiatric hospitals, but for the average man on the street there wasn’t an opportunity to get feedback about how they come across socially and interpersonally.

So, my business partner at the time, Valerie White and I started this business where we would thought, “Who will be most interested?” and we thought people on the dating world, so we actually did create and launched the very first – others are doing it now – but we had the very first simulated first state business model.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. And so, then, I have some friends, we’ve talked about how some people could use some help and we’d be happy to give it to them, so that must’ve been interesting.

Ann Demarais
Yeah, and it’s awkward to give it to your friends so that’s why it’s helpful to go to a professional. So, yes, it was really interesting, met fabulous people, and people learned a real lot. They have blind spots they never knew before. They got that kind of feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, that’s exactly what I’d like to go next in terms of these blind spots. What are some of things you see over and over again, that people, they just don’t even realize others are perceiving or inferring about them?

Ann Demarais
Well, there’s so many ways that we do some things, Pete, that are positive and send a positive message, and then there’s some things we do that send unintended negative messages, and so there’s a lot of ways that people kind of blind spots. We just don’t see ourselves the way others do. Like when we hear ourselves on audio or even video tape, it seems awkward, so there’s lots of these blind spots.

So, some of the common ones, which I can share a little bit of, is, well, one is called conversational narcissism, and that means talking a lot about yourself, using “I” statements, and talking about your world, your family, your work, etcetera. And it’s actually more common than you realize, and people just sometimes aren’t aware that they’re going on about themselves just because it’s interesting and top of mind.

But it’s an easy fix if you know you have this tendency or you find yourself speaking a little bit more, a little bit longer than you intended about yourself. You can just shift and say, “So, tell me, Pete, about you and tell me about your world. I was just talking about X. You share what you’re doing in that area.” So, it’s a common flaw with an easy fix.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. What else?

Ann Demarais
Well, another one, there’s people that do research, interestingly, about topics and which are the most appealing and least appealing. The least appealing topic is what they called negative egocentrism. That’s complaining about one’s problems. Again, these top of minds, like the big ones, “My computer glitched.” “My iPhone has this problem.” These kinds of things are really, really boring to other people, especially people you’ve just met.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Ann, I really appreciate you saying this because sometimes people do this, and I’m thinking, “I don’t care,” and then I feel like, “Oh, Pete, you should be more compassionate. You should be more kind in listening.” But you’re telling me, “No, Pete, it’s universally people don’t really want to hear it.”

Ann Demarais
We could talk about how to turn that more positively but it is a universally-unappealing topic, and you’re reacting the way most people do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m not jerk.

Ann Demarais
But sometimes we all might fall into a pattern of whining about this so it’s a good thing to have a little self-check about, “I’ve complained about a problem I might have.” It’s good to remember that it’s really an unappealing and it’s a real downer.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ann Demarais
So, another thing that research has shown is, again, this negativity thing. speaking negatively about other, so if you describe someone as being like lazy and tedious, or boring or something, we have this mental modeling, they call it, where we sometimes leave the conversation confused, and sometimes remember you as the person with those negative traits.

So, if on the other hand you describe someone, your colleague that’s like really creative and strategic and fun and all these things, after the conversation, people might project those qualities on you, so it’s in your self-interest. First of all, it’s more interesting and not as boring as this negative, but it’s in your self-interest to speak positively about other people. It creates a good vibe and it actually makes you seem more awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, I like that. So very, very helpful stuff there in terms of narcissism as me, me, me, me, me, complaining about a problem that I’m experiencing, speaking negatively about others are all sort of, it sounds like are some universal things that are not a winning approach. And so, then, I’d love to get your take then when it comes to some of the particulars that we have, our own blind spots, by definition, I guess we don’t know about them. So, how can we know how we’re making other people feel? I understand you got a framework associated with four ways to focus.

Ann Demarais
Yeah. So, at any conversation with, say, two people, there’s different ways we focus. The first is how I’m feeling. So, if I’m meeting a new client I might be feeling nervous or confident or uncomfortable or whatever, just pops to my awareness. It’s a natural focus. But then, after a little while, I might think, “Okay. Well, how do I think about this other person? What are my thoughts or feelings about them?”

And then the third way is, eventually if I know I’m being evaluated like I’m on a client pitch or a job interview, I might think, “What’s this person? What’s Pete thinking about me? I’m kind of curious about that.” But the one way we don’t typically focus is on how is that person feeling about him or herself, and how is my interaction with them impacting them, with the aim to like be more socially generous.

So, if you use it as a framework to be socially generous, make other people feel better about themselves, you’ll make a more awesome impression.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Ann, I dig that because I was chucking along, I was like, “Okay, this is like a little two-by-two we’re talking about here in terms of us and them and then the feelings.” And you’re right, how are they feeling about themselves is not active question that I’m pursuing in my internal dialogue very much. And so, I guess I’m wondering, how could we even know how they’re feeling about themselves? And what are some key things that we can do to, I guess, help them feel better if they’re feeling bad in certain ways?

Ann Demarais
Well, it’s a good question. Yeah, it’s a really good question. People are saying, like, “Well, I’d like to be more socially generous. I give money to charity but I don’t think about giving to other people.” And people have different things they like out of interactions but there some universals. We call them social gifts, things that most people like.

So, there’s four of them. The first one is feeling appreciated. So, if you have a colleague that said something that you think is interesting or does something creative, and you point that out rather than remaining quiet, then that people feel good and they feel like you respect their talents or accomplishments. It’s just a universally positive thing to feel respected in that regard.

The next one is feeling connected. We all like to feel part of a larger, connected, interdependent group. So, if you say something, and I say, “I feel the same way, too,” or, “I share that value,” or, “I have that experience,” or, “I agree with you.” That makes that, that’s a gift of connection.

The third one is just making people feel a sense of elevation, a little levity. We probably all know people that when you talk to them, they put a smile on your face, you’re happy. Most people it’s kind of neutral, and then there’s kind of the Debbie-downers, so it’s good to think about, “What about you? Do you like…?” It doesn’t mean you have to be a jokester, but just having more kind of uplifting manner and mood about you is a gift. Most people like to feel elevated.

And the last is what we call enlightenment, like providing information, sharing your ideas, or having new information, or putting things out on the table there. It makes you more interesting, and it’s enlightening them with more fun facts and things. So, having these four things, if maybe you know someone offhand that kind of provides you with these things, makes you feel smart and puts you in a fun mood, and they’re interesting, very charismatic, really strong leadership qualities.

But if you’re like most people, you may have a stronger suit like you might be really informative but you don’t get out of your way to make people feel appreciated, so you might be depriving them of that kind of feeling and warmth, and you’re not as generous in that area. If you think about maybe where you are strong and weak you can tweak that and go out of your way to say, “Gee, I don’t really go out.” Think about complimenting people, and, “Maybe I should, in a genuine way, and that will make them feel better, and so they’ll feel better from having interacted with me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I’m right now thinking about my former roommate, Dave, who just everybody loves, and I think he very much does some of these things in terms of appreciating and respecting, feeling connected, and then the levity and enlightenment. And sometimes I’m just thinking about a time where I was playing some old-school dorky computer game that I love in my childhood called Master of Orion, and I was all fired up because you’re trying to take over the galaxy and that’s the idea, it’s like, “nobody really cares if you start talking about this to people.”

So, I was playing the game and I went back to the kitchen, and he’s like, “Hey, how are you doing?” And I was like, “Oh, I’m awesome because I’ve got all these missile bases, they can’t touch me and I’m just smoking the other guys.” And he’s like, “Well, how many missile bases do you have?” I was like, “Well, I’ve got like 120.” He’s like, “How many do they have?” And I was like, “Forty.” And he’s like, “Wow! You’re going to destroy them.”

Ann Demarais
So, he was like generally interested and totally engaged in your world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I don’t think he was really interested, but in a way there was that levity in that he’s going to appreciate and respect me in so far as he’s like, “I know you’re excited about this right now, and I think that’s cool. I like that you’re excited and we can sort of connect about that a little bit.” And then we can just have a little bit of a laugh associated with, “Well, what if those missile bases have some crazy shields. What do I do?”

[00:12:12]

And so, I thought that was just noteworthy because, well, everyone loves Dave, and Dave engaged me in that conversation in a way that most people really don’t. It’s like, “All right. Good luck, dude.” So, they just conclude it pretty quickly.

Ann Demarais
Right. So, he was connecting and elevating and actually respecting how many bases you had or whatever, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I think the levity in particular is just like I don’t know how you teach or to deliver that, but I guess part of it is smiles and laughs and eye contact and a vocal intonation, that’s like, “Oh,” that sounds a little kind of interested. But what are some of the key ways or practices, I should say, that folks who bring that?

Ann Demarais
Part of it is being in the moment. I mean, he was in the moment. He was listening intently. He was engaging and really exploring that, so that’s a really good thing. And also finding fun in something, like sort of the positive, “Hey, this is so great. Pete is having a great time.” Like you said, he’s like just feeding off of that positive mood and giving you back more of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s great way to say it, feeding off the positive mood and giving back more of it. And I think when it comes to the appreciation, sometimes, I recall once I was on a date and it wasn’t so great, and I was wondering, “Why is that?” And maybe one or both of us could’ve used your services to have improved it. And I think it was like I would say something and she just sort of said, “Okay.” It’s almost like the opposite of improv, “Yes, and…” instead of entering my world. Maybe it was silly. Maybe it was different. I don’t know. Maybe it was odd. I don’t know.

But instead of entering that world, she just sort of put the kibosh on it as opposed to even just acknowledging something that someone said and then taking another step into it, I think, it feels like you’re being appreciated.

Ann Demarais
Yes, it’s a strong feeling, right? It feels really good. And, back to that, asking open-ended questions, which was what your roommate was doing, like, “How many?” and just exploring. And rather than having this sort of superficial conversations where it just ends or asking a close-ended question, that shows a genuine curiosity. And cultivating that actually yields unexpected results.

Like sometimes we don’t think this person is going to be interesting. And if you explore a little below the surface you find really interesting things in people. And so, if you can let go of our self-focus, really explore, discover other people, you can find lots of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you share, maybe in terms of that curiosity, I guess maybe some of the questions that you ask yourself to stoke the curiosity, as well as questions you ask your conversation partner to get into more intriguing realms of conversation?

Ann Demarais
Yes, so showing interests is one of the most important fundamentals of making a positive impression. And if you remember nothing else from this, this is one of the most powerful techniques to use, is to show interests. There’s a physical focus in the eye contact, these open-ended questions, and then one of the easiest things to do is to say, “Oh, that reminds me of me. I used to play this other video game, and let me tell you about that, and this fantastic time when I blew up all the galaxies.” It’s very easy to segue back to our own world and steal the spotlight away.

So, it’s one thing to be super mindful of even if you’re dying to share your story to try to keep the spotlight on the other person, and that means really managing your distractions and being able to stay in the moment with that person and relate to what they’re saying. It’s not that hard to do. It just takes a little bit of practice and a little bit of checking some tendencies of segueing.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you.

Ann Demarais
Sometimes people even segue back to themselves as a way to showcase some positive qualities about themselves, so they sometimes do it deliberately to like talk about themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
“One time I conquered the galaxy when I was outnumbered five-to-one.”

Ann Demarais
Exactly. So, that’s a really, really important fundamental of making an awesome impression. So, part of what we do – and, by the way, we have a book called First Impressions – What You Don’t Know About How Others See You – is break it down into what are the key things that make people have a strong impression and come across awesomely, that’s one of the big ones. Making yourself accessible with your body language and mood, being more proactive in introducing yourself rather than passive, is it allows people to kind of connect with you and feel more comfort around you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s just a matter of walking right up to folks and saying hello and shaking hands. Or any particulars to note there?

Ann Demarais
Oh, you know, we’ve all walked into a party or a conference where we really don’t know anyone, and there’s a sort of the choice between sort of standing in the corner with your cocktail or going up and introducing yourself, and it’s a discomfort that lot of us have to overcome. So, having that, you’ll look better and you’ll look more confident and you’ll feel better if you take the active versus the passive approach. Go up to a person that’s standing alone who’s probably dying to talk to someone.

Be okay with going up to other people. Invite other people to join you. It makes other people feel more comfortable around you. You’re easy to connect with. Now, obviously, in some situations people are going to be having an intense conversation that you can’t bust into. But if you practice more often, just going up and saying, “I’m Pete. I’m with this organization, blah, blah, blah,” it just makes everyone more comfortable around you and then they could see you in that light.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we got that showing interests, we got the accessibility. What are some of the other key fundamentals?

Ann Demarais
All right. So, then, you’re at a conference and you’d have to figure out what to talk about, your mutual blank slates. What do you talk about? Do you jump into your position on gun control or politics? So, generally, you want to like sort of ease in. You want to like establish trust and comfort with someone before you jump into like more heady things that are even more interesting but it really sounds kind of banal but talking about just the moment, the weather, the situation, the music that’s playing, that just makes people feel like you’re a nice and normal person and we’re sharing the same space.

Then talk about the facts, like, “Hey, what’s going on in the company?” or, “What’s going on in this conference?” and just sharing those kinds of things. And then, if you have that kind of trust and rapport, then you can talk more about opinions, “Hey, what do you think about that speaker?” or, “What do you think about what’s going on in the office politics, etcetera?” You can go into that. Then if you disagree you still have such a foundation of maybe connection that you can work through those things and really enjoy that person rather than jumping into things.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s’ why I like that segmentation there in terms of a) the situation, b) facts, and c) opinions, because opinions, even if they’re not like, I don’t know, gun control, abortion, Donald Trump, insert high-controversy matter. Even if the opinion is like the speaker, that does feel a little bit, well, I guess maybe significantly more sensitive in so far as, “Well, I don’t know, is that speaker like your cousin? I thought they’re really boring,” that might be offensive to you.

Or, if this is a high point of passion for you, and I say that, “I thought it was dumb and completely unnecessary,” that could be destructive. So, you’re right, like the opinion, even if it’s maybe potentially innocuous, like the speaker or the food, that is more sensitive than facts or the situation.

Ann Demarais
So, it’s just easing in and establishing trust and connection, and then you can go a little bit further. And it’s important in the beginning to kind of be brief and then make sure that you’re not talking at people and you’re talking with them. Sometimes people fall into a pattern of sermonizing, trying to convince people of their way of thinking, Lecturing. Men tend to do a little bit of this. They know something out of topic and they like to talk about it, male-pattern lecturing.

When I talk to men after they do this, they often say it makes them feel good. They feel like they’re informing people. They feel smart. And so, it’s just you have to remember that you’re pinning someone as an audience member, depriving them, again, of those other social gifts. Women have a tendency to tell long stories about people that other people don’t know, “My friend is having this relationship problem, blah, blah, blah,” that is unappealing in a lot of situations.

So, you want to be careful not to go into kind of talking at people, not getting too heavy or banal. So those are some ways to sort of think about topics of the world. Then another thing that’s helpful to know is to self-disclose. We all sort of know that we should share basic demographics about ourselves. The more you do, I mean, there’s this whole movement towards being authentic at work, right? So, you want to be like a whole person and be honest.

And then, if you do share parts of yourself, then people feel more trust and psychological safety with you, they’re easier to collaborate with you. Of course, there are some guardrails. You want to keep it, again, having some levity and you don’t want to go into something that’s too deep and personal and making people feel awkward. But if you can give people portals to talk to you about things other than work they feel more comfortable around you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good.

Ann Demarais
So, things that are good to share are like your passions, what really sparks you, what galaxies you like to go to, etcetera, vulnerabilities are humanizing, “You know, I screwed up on this. I feel like such a dope or whatever.” It just makes you feel – it makes people feel comfortable around you.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then, I’d love a couple of guidelines there with regard to how much is too much. It seems like my hunch is you could probably disclose a bit more vulnerability than you feel like you can disclose, hence the word vulnerable and what it means. But do you have any kind of clear don’ts with regard to your self-disclosure?

Ann Demarais
I don’t know if there’s any hard or fast rules, but you might want to sort of match. So, if you share something, and someone shares something back, that’s giving you kind of the green light, but if people seem uncomfortable then you might be oversharing. And, again, a lot of like negative stuff, you had this knockdown dragged out fight with your significant other the night before might be uncomfortable for people to hear so you might want to be kind of careful about that. But that said, the more people feel complimented if you share things about yourself than they wouldn’t know unless you share with them. It says, “I like you.” It says, “I trust you.”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s really true. I’m thinking about some people, and it’s like, “Man, you know what? I feel like I’m really close with that guy.” And then I come to learn, “Wait a minute, he discloses that with everybody.” So, I guess I’m still close with that guy but I guess I’m not like special.

Ann Demarais
You thought he was your closest buddy.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. But I had inferred that we had a pretty privilege relationship based upon, “Well, he really just sort of shared what was going on with that girl and her moving and all the implications of how it’s tough.” It’s like, “Man, me and this guy, we’re tight.” And then it’s like, “Oh, I guess he’s shared that with many people.”

Ann Demarais
But you had that experience, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, yes.

Ann Demarais
The compliment, “He likes me enough,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Ann Demarais
So, I mean, I think the more better, you have to sort of understand that the culture of the workplace that you’re in, which is going to vary, but, yes, it makes people feel more comfortable around you.

So, the next fundamental is kind of the dynamics of the conversation, like the rhythm, the speed, the intensity, who talks more, etcetera. You’ve probably all been in meetings where you notice that some people talk a lot more than other people. The natural extroverts are going to just narrate their thoughts and ramble, and the natural introverts maybe need a little bit more time to speak and will speak less.

So, these things really affect how people show up and how much that they share and how they make other people feel, so it’s really helpful to think about yourself. Like if you’re in a meeting of four people, you should probably be speaking, on average, a quarter of the time. Are you someone that typically speaks more than your quarter or less than your quarter, kind of thing? And so, being able to synchronize with the other person will really increase the quality of your interaction and how they feel around you.

So, some tips for this. If you’re an over-talker, before you go into a meeting, give yourself a budget, “I only get X number of minutes,” whatever the math gives you, and kind of like highlight the key things you want to speak to. If you’re someone that kind of under-speaks, make sure that you think in advance of some things you want to introduce so that you’ve kind of teed them up, and try to speak earlier in the meeting, try to say something even procedural, like, “Hey, thanks for the agenda, Pete,” and just get yourself kind of as a presence at the table.

And so, it’s about the speed, intensity, whether you pause for others, how you synchronize. Another key thing, it’s almost inevitable that two people will speak at the same time in some interaction, I think you and I already have, and it’s just part of life. And then whether you yield typically or regain the floor sends a message. If you yield, it’s like saying, “Pete, whatever you have to say it’s way more interesting than what I wanted to share.” But if I over-talk you it sends the opposite message.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’d be very careful not to talk at the same time. But if I did I would yield to you, Ann. I would yield. I’ve learned. I’m learning.

Ann Demarais
It’s okay. It’s part of nature to speak at the same time. All right, my next fundamental is perspective. That’s kind of the psychological self-presentation you make, whether you show flexibility, how positive or negative, whether you present yourself as a victim, blame your boss for things or superior or inferior. All these things can come out and may or may not serve you well.

In general, as you probably would guess, it’s better to be flexible and positive and sort of equal with people rather than blameful or negative. But some people have a blind spot, they think, “Well, I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining. It doesn’t mean that I’m being negative about this.” So, it might be something to be aware of if your patterns are sending a message you didn’t intend.

And the last one is your physical presentation, and that’s really about how you kind of show up physically. And regardless of how you look or your age, whether you show pride versus shame in your body really affects kind of the confidence that you project and whether you have impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Pride versus shame.

Ann Demarais
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, can you give us some examples of what a prideful versus shameful presentation looks like?

Ann Demarais
Well, the classic example is Superman or Clark Kent, right? Same body. And you can see women that would be considered like large or not sexy, like Queen Latifah, shows up like, “I am the queen.” She has this incredible confidence, wears form-fitting things, and she’s just magnetic, right? So, there’s people that can just show up and have all the confidence in the world, and there’s some people that can be fabulous-looking and just sort of recoil. So, there is an expansiveness about pride, and a sort of recoiling about shame.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, what I’m thinking about power posing, Amy Cuddy, like you say expansive poses. And what are some of the other ingredients there?

Ann Demarais
Yes, so Amy Cuddy’s work, as you may know, has gotten some scrutiny but I’m actually an advocate and find it personally to be beneficial. So, if the listening audience doesn’t know, she proposes expanding your body for two minutes before you have a presentation in like a starfish or like a Wonder Woman, and it can give you more confidence and you feel stronger and less nervous in new situations.

But there is data that I’ve read before she came out with hers, that when you naturally assign people to superior versus inferior role just randomly like with subjects in and experiment, the teacher or the superior roles naturally spreads their arms further and takes up more physical space. It’s almost ingrained in our behavior, in our role-taking, and the subordinate would be more kind of smaller, make one’s self smaller.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s one sort of ingredient or dimension associated with presentation, is do you feel like, “Oh, I don’t deserve to take up this space”? You’re very timid versus, “I am the queen,” or just sort of occupying that Superman and Clark Kent. What are some of the other dimensions or ingredients associated with sort of a strong presentation?

Ann Demarais
So, strong body language, and there’s a lot of research that are unfounded but there are some things that are really strong and are supported with projecting power. So, having a good physical posture. So, you can notice, and actually before you give a presentation, use your little devices and videotape yourself. Do you have a strong, you know, your shoulders out? Or do you slouch it all? That makes a really big difference.

Leaning in slightly versus leaning back, even in a meeting, shows interest and power and engagement. Eye contact really matters a lot. So, there’s data showing that most people make eye contact about 50%-60% of the time. If you go above that it’s still even better because it shows really like you’re focused and all that charismatic kind of attention on someone.

If you go below that, you can look distrustful or uncomfortable. And when I work with people that don’t make the average amount of eye contact, they often don’t know because they look away before others so they don’t really get the data, so to speak. So, if you have any sense that you might be like that, or you’re not sure, it’s really helpful to ask somebody to give you some feedback on that because it really makes a difference and it’s something that you can train yourself over time to just go past your comfort point and just in eye contact with someone.

And then smiling.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, just because we’re on the eye contact point. When it comes to that, I would love your take on should you look right at the person’s eyeball or pupil or eyebrow, their nose, the left eye, the right eye? Is there an optimal means of making eye contact?

Ann Demarais
Most of the studies I’ve seen shown that people actually sort of scan around that space. They don’t necessarily lock left eye to right eye, etcetera. But looking around that person’s facial area constitutes eye contact. It’s when people look at the walls. People kind of feel that they need a blank visual to think, and that like a face is sort of like visually noisy. So, you don’t have to worry about the percentage of time you’re looking at the brow versus the eyes, but looking in that general area would do, would give that impression.

And then the smiling one, which we talked about before, it’s so powerful that it affects people’s behavior, that the study that they have people smile upon people, or not smile upon them on the street, and then later have someone drop something. The smiled-upon people are more likely to pick something up for the person than the ones that didn’t get smiled upon. A very like brief, like one-second smile affects people’s mood and their actual behavior.

So, when you smile, you’re kind of projecting that physical confidence, and you’re projecting that presence, that pride, that you’re happy, that you’re safe, and that you’re a positive person, and it affects the world around you in this really nice way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice. Thank you. All right. Well, so then, I’m wondering now, these are a nice sort of set of great ingredients for making a solid first impression. Any particular tweaks or emphasis you’d put on this when it comes to in the work environment so that it’s really coming across in great ways with the people you see not just once but again and again and again?

Ann Demarais
Sure, I have some tips. Well, one thing that’s so fabulous about being in the workplace compared to the social is you can get feedback from these things. Your boss’ job is to give you feedback, and if you solicit the feedback it even makes you look really proactive and development-oriented. So, if you have any suspicion that maybe you could be better at any of these things we talked about, you can go to your boss and say, “Hey, I’d love to know how I come across when I’m presenting. Do you have any feedback about my body language? How about my communication style in meetings? Do you think I speak the right amount? Should I speak more or less, etcetera?”

In the social world, no one will give you this. And when you were on the date that didn’t go well, no one gave you any feedback, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Ann Demarais
So, it’s so wonderful that it actually affects the bottom line, and your manager would probably love to tell you this, or you could get a mentor, or ask a trusted colleague. But the key things you want to do that really are going to make you awesome is making yourself accessible. There’s something about this now, this big movement towards psychological safety so that you can make people feel comfortable around you, comfortable to raise ideas, to maybe debate things.

So, when you make, by disclosing things and making people feel good around you, you create that kind of feeling of trust and safety, and that fosters much better collaboration and much better workflow in environment, so that’s an easy and really helpful thing you can do. Again, being interested and coming in to meetings with, yes, you’ve got some ideas, but really opening your heart, being other-oriented exploring.

If someone says something that you think is really a bad idea, challenge yourself to say, “Hey, I never thought of that way. Can you tell me more about that point of view?” That can help you to cultivate that curiosity that will make you actually available to more ideas and are more comfortable as a collaborator.

And then, again, being careful to present yourself as a whole person and making sure that people feel that they know you – this is why they do a lot of team building – that you’re someone that they can go to and trust and feel that you care about them. So, going back to being like my social generosity framework, being generous to people so that they feel good about themselves from interacting with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s interesting, even as we’re chatting, I’ve heard you used the word awesome several times, and I don’t know if that’s just part of your common vernacular or if this is a conscientious choice on your part with the name of the show How To Be Awesome At Your Job, and word choice. Is there something to that when it comes to using a social gift and being endearing using the words that the person you’re speaking with uses?

Ann Demarais
Yes, very good catch there, Pete. Yes, if you use other people’s vocabulary, if they call something and it’s as not the word you normally choose to use, adapt to the other person’s vocabulary, so that does make people feel more connected to you. Try to make it easier for them, use their words. So, I was using the word awesome, I like the word awesome a lot but I was adapting it to your awesomeness in your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s like I’m endeared each time you say it, so it’s working. Well, so then, I’m wondering if, let’s say, the first impression is not so good, and we’ve made some mistakes, failed to be generous, violating some of the fundamentals of a good first impression. What can we do if we have a suboptimal first impression? Is it possible to overcome it?

Ann Demarais
Yes, and it happens to the best of us. So, it’s, again, part of life. Yes, you can, if you’re going to see the person again, if they’re going to be a new colleague or client. If they’re someone you’re not going to see again it would be inappropriate to track them down to try to correct it. But if it’s someone that you’re going to see, you can sort of do a little bit of a correction. You can send them an email.

I prefer sending an email rather than calling them and putting them on the spot, and say, “Hey, you know, I was really tired when we met the other day, and sometimes when that happens I do acts, it’s like I talk a lot more. And I apologize, that’s not how I really am, and I’m really want to get to know you, so I look forward to learning more about you in our next interaction.” People often feel endeared by an apology, and it can help to reset things more quickly.

Like, of course, you have to correct your behavior the next time or you dig yourself deeper. But you can do that and I think not putting them on the spot is more comfortable than saying that directly and having them having to react to it in the moment. If you’re uncomfortable doing that, over time your future positive behaviors will tip the scale and they’ll see you as this really great person that you really are and not that one annoying-style person that you were that first time.

It takes working kind of uphill. As I said in the beginning, we form impressions kind of quickly and unconsciously, and people expect us to behave in the same kind of way all the time, so you’re fighting that but you can overcome it. Or you can be using the social generosity framework. If you know that person likes a lot of levity or they like lots of information, you can adapt yourself to what they like and give them more of the kind of the social gifts that they like, and then you might tip the scales more quickly. So, it is very possible to recover.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, Ann, this has been so much good stuff. Now, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ann Demarais
No, I think those are the key things, there’s a lot here. Of course, we have this book that I mentioned. And on our website, we have these tables that are a great tool that are like positive behaviors that you do with positive impact, and then some that you do that have an unintended negative impact, and you can print them out and kind of self-evaluate, “Do I do that? Do I do that sometimes? Often? Rarely?” It’s kind of a little self-awareness tool that’s really helpful and then it can inspire you to try to experiment so that you come across more positively.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ann Demarais
Oh, I have this. It’s actually on the end of our book. It’s Goethe, and I don’t know if I’m pronouncing his name correctly.

Pete Mockaitis
Goth?

Ann Demarais
Goth? Yes, Goth.

Pete Mockaitis
I never know either. Goethe?

Ann Demarais
Something like that. I’ll use your word. Goethe or Goth? And he wrote this, it says, “I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it’s my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or deescalated, and a person is humanized or dehumanized.” So, I think it’s really helpful to realize how much power we have to impact other people around us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Ann Demarais
A favorite book. Well, I’m a huge fan of Dale Carnegie’s How to.Win Friends and Influence People       which I think is just a great classic. If you haven’t read it, it’s like 100 years old or something but it’s brilliant. There’s been so many great writers on this topic and it is something that which I find interesting is it’s not complicated or hard to understand, but it’s just not intuitive. So, there’s many, many people that have spoken about it in really interesting ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Ann Demarais
So, I think this tool that I mentioned of using self-analysis on how you behave, and I also am a huge fan of asking for feedback. And it’s something you can do with people and you have to practice, saying thank you and not debating it, and just processing it and taking note of it, so that’s a really great tool.

Another tool I use with my coach-ees is think about how much you respect people, like in your heart of hearts. I call it a respect matrix. All the people, some of them are eight, some of them are twos, some of them are fives, with ten being high. Then thinking about how transparent are you. To the people that are eights, they probably know that you like them because you behave so positively to them. But to the people that are like twos and fives, do they know that? Do you show how much you truly respect people? Or do you aim to show a higher respect than you really feel?

And then my next kind of question on that is, “What’s your goal?” And I would argue that if you try to make everyone feel like a ten in your eyes, like they’re your favorite child, that you see something really positive and that you respect them for who they are and where they’re coming from, that you have a really positive impact on people.

And so, sometimes with people that you just naturally aren’t drawn to or don’t like is just part of human nature, seek to learn more about them, try to find something that you really would genuinely find interesting about them, and there’s people that have lots of depth.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Ann Demarais
So, I think that – and since I’m in the personal improvement industry – if you try to think about just one thing that you want to improve on yourself and make it kind of like a goal, it could be something as simple as smiling a couple more times per day, and focus on that for a while until you make it a new habit.

And so, make it something like you put down in your calendar or your to-do list or whatever it is, and challenge yourself, because these little tiny things that you do, even if you do them, especially if you do them early in your career, will pay you huge dividends. And sometimes a slight effort or a little bit out of your comfort zone that really not only is good for you but think again with the pay-it-forward. The more you do these things and make other people happy around you, the more you spread like really positive vibes, so think about the people around you as much as yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget or articulation of your message you share that seems to really connect with folks in terms of they’re taking notes and nodding their heads all the more vigorously when you say it?

Ann Demarais
Well, I think I go back to my generosity thing in thinking about that you can give money, and you can donate your time, and you can walk your walks for different medical conditions. We all do all these things all the time, but we sometimes forget to just be enlightening and make someone feel happier, and that it’s such an easy thing to do. And that, again, it can sort of spread and there’s this like contagion of it. And that, if we all were more socially generous, it would be a happier and warmer world.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And is there a place you’d like to point people if they want to learn more or get in touch?

Ann Demarais
Sure. We have a website, of course. It’s www.FirstImpressionsConsulting.com, and we offer coaching, we have those tables, we have seminars, other information, etcetera.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Ann Demarais
Call to action is to find that one thing that they want to work on and commit to it and ask for feedback and make it part of your everyday life or throughout your career. Always try to find one thing to tweak, one way to be just slightly better, and be mindful of that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Ann, thank you so much for taking this time. This has been very informative and I appreciate it and I hope you have tremendous first impressions with whomever you meet.

Ann Demarais
All right. Thanks so much, Pete. It was a lot of fun.

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