Good or bad, we all make first impressions, from the moment we enter a room. Sometimes impressions are made before we open our mouths. If you’re late you send a signal that you’re not cognizant of wasting people’s time. Dress sloppily or inappropriately for an event, it shows lack of attention to detail. It’s all about signals that we send – too often unintentionally.
Two recent personal experiences are great reminders that it pays to be more intentional about the way we come off. In one instance someone I was meeting with showed up 30 minutes late, then walked into the restaurant with a phone attached to his head. He actually talked a while longer before acknowledging me. It would have been nice if he had used that same phone to let me know he was going to be late. I later found out that he had communicated with a secondary person at the meeting who was also running late – just not me. Neither told me. He offered an apology without giving me eye contact – distracted as if I was an annoyance to his day.
In any case, life happens. Things come up. But instead of starting off a meeting with bad feelings, the entire situation could have been fixed by him walking into the room with some pep in his step – without a phone attached to his ear – then immediately offering a sincere apology. Instead, he took not one, not two, not three, but four more phone calls during the meeting. Again, I understand people are busy and people have unexpected calls and issues. But answering four calls is unacceptable. It would have been better to have canceled the meeting if he was that busy.
Instead of leaving an awful bad first impression, he could have easily finessed the situation – even walking in as late as he did. All he had to do was immediately apologize about being late. Then he should have added something like – “As much as I hate to disturb our meeting I am going to have to take one expected call. I will make it brief. Then you will have my undivided attention.”
Be aware of the signals you’re sending when developing new relationships – unless you just don’t care. You might be a great person with a successful business, but it doesn’t matter to a new person you agreed to meet with if they only have one impression of you – a bad impression.
In another situation, I tried to set up an appointment with someone who was referred to me. After the second call in one week – and no return call – I moved on. Three weeks later the man’s secretary called me back, noting that he received my messages and was interested in speaking with me. I didn’t return the call. His secretary called a few days later. Again, I did not return the call. My reason: I called him directly and expected a return call. Is this small business owner so busy and so important that he has to have someone else return a call from three weeks earlier? The signal he sent – I am not worthy of his time. Meanwhile in the same month, I dealt with people who ran much larger companies – yet managed to engage with me directly – with both emails and phone calls. Either works.
Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect in either our personal or professional lives. However, I’m a firm believer in making efforts to fix issues. All we have to do is be aware of how we come off – which means acknowledge a misstep - then work towards fixing the problem. Here’s a suggestion. Keep it simple. Offer a brief but sincere apology. Let the offended person know that they do matter and their time is appreciated. Then move toward trying to build a new relationship.
I’ve met a lot of successful business people and the most successful ones don’t wear their titles on their sleeves. They recognize that everyone has something to offer – and when they agree to have a conversation with someone they actually listen and exchange ideas. Being inattentive, looking around, fidgeting or looking tired, sleepy or bored is just as bad as showing up late.
Warren Buffet is one of the most successful investors of the 20th century and one of the world’s wealthiest people. From what I’ve read, he also has integrity – which isn’t just about honesty. It’s about a personal philosophy.
According to Buffet:
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.”
I couldn’t agree more.