by A G Krishnamurthy (Ad industry veteran, writes a weekly column in Business Standard India)
February 23, 2007
Experts have concluded that it takes only 90 seconds for a stranger to form an impression about you — especially in formal, business situations where an introduction invariably takes places in a highly charged and judgmental environment.
Everybody is sizing each other up and this is how the cookie crumbles: A huge 55 per cent of the first impression you make is formed by your body language, a non-committal 38 per cent is awarded to your articulation and a meagre 7 per cent to content! I went through most of my career blissfully unaware of the nitty-gritty behind a "Hello, I am so and so..." but looking back on all my first encounters with clients and colleagues, I realise that there is a lot of truth behind this analysis.
A lot of what went into my 'gut' feeling about people lay in the volume of communication that preceded the actual conversation. Come to think of it, I would invariably make up my mind whether I liked, disliked, trusted or was suspicious of a person long before we actually had a conversation!
The rest was just a confirmation of my initial impression. Every single detail gives you away in an encounter — the firmness or the slackness of your handshake, the length of your gaze — stare too long and you will be considered rude and intrusive, too little and it means you are ignoring their presence. The ideal length of a look apparently is 10 seconds. Look away after that, else your intentions will be misconstrued!
The general impression is that most people react positively when you have pleasantness about your face all the time, if you know how to listen and then answer, rather than doing a "fastest finger first" and blurting out an opinion before you understand the context. Most newcomers seem to have the impression that expressing an opinion on everything is a good thing.
To sum up, even though the extent body language can impact your career can be frightening, the good news is that if you are a good person your personality will manifest itself in subtle ways to win the day, even when all else seems against you.
Despite the research and simple tips available today on body language, it is amazing how many people violate these norms and unfortunately give negative impressions of themselves. Presentations and speeches without conveying energy and enthusiasm, talking without varying tone, avoiding eye contact in one-on-one meetings... One does not have to read the many good books on body language to know these basics and I certainly would not advise taking a formulaic approach like, "Oh, this person folded his arms, his mind is closed to any suggestion..." but an awareness of your own habits and avoiding simple mistakes can go a long away in creating a favourable impression.