Why You Only Get ONE CHANCE To Make A First Impression

Want to know the science behind making an impactful first impression?

Prof. Alexander Todorov is a world-leading professor of psychology at Princeton University and he shares why you only get one chance to make a first impression in business on this episode of the podcast.

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Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Alexander Todorov
Professor of Psychology

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Transcript 

Alexander Todorov:

It is a fact of social life that we do engage in this extremely rapid and fairly dramatic first impressions. This is sufficient time or sufficient information for people to make all kinds of consequential judgement , such as whether the person is trustworthy, competent, aggressive, and so on and so on. It is evolutionary to the extent that we do pay attention to the faces of other people but to infer their immediate mental states. Because during the whole evolutionary human history, we had to figure out the intentions of the others.

 

Will Barron:

Hello, Salesnation, I’m Will Barron, host of the Salesman Podcast, the world’s biggest B2B sales show where we help you not only to hit your targets, but really thrive in sale. Let’s meet today’s guest.

 

Alexander Todorov:

I’m Alexander Todorov. I’m a professor of psychology at Princeton University. Among many other things, I study first impressions.

 

Will Barron:

On this episode of the show with Alexander, who is a professor of psychology over at Princeton University, literally one of the world’s leading experts in this field. We’re diving into the science of first impressions. Why we give first impressions in the first place, why we make these snap judgments, then what should we be wearing to make a better first impression? What car should we drive? What should our facial structure be like and a whole lot more, so let’s jump right in.

 

The Science Behind Why Humans Are So Keen on First Impressions · [01:15]

 

Will Barron:

What is the science behind why we make these snap judgments that we call first impressions? What are the reasons for it? And I guess, is this an evolutionary thing that’s happened over hundreds of thousands of years, or is this a more recent occurrence?

 

Alexander Todorov:

It is a fact of social life that we do engage in this extremely rapid and fairly dramatic first impression. So we’ve done a number of studies where you can show a face to a person, a face they’ve never seen for extremely brief amount of time, typically of the sort of less than one tenth of a second. And nevertheless, this is sufficient time or sufficient information for people to make all kinds of consequential judgement , such as whether the person is trustworthy, competent, aggressive, and so on and so on.

 

Alexander Todorov:

The question is where do they come from? It’s a really important question. And a lot of this, of course we have to speculate, but I think that the best answer is that it is evolutionary to the extent that we do pay attention to the faces of other people, but to infer their immediate mental states. Because during the whole evolutionary human history, we had to figure out the intentions of the others. But we didn’t have to read their character from the faces.

 

Alexander Todorov:

And we didn’t because if you think about evolutionary history compressed within 24 hours, for most of this time, we’ve lived in small groups, essentially extended families, where we have lots of information about the people surrounding you. From firsthand knowledge, secondhand knowledge, gossip, and so on and so on. But you pretty much knew everybody else in the group and where do they stand in the social hierarchy.

 

Alexander Todorov:

And then with the emergence of modern states, which we are talking only within 10, 20 to 20,000 years, which is less than five minutes, the last five minutes of 24 hours, we suddenly are surrounded by strangers. There is a scientist, Jared Diamond has this line that I like in one of his books, that this was the first time in human history where we had to encounter strangers without trying to kill them. Because before that, all you need to know whether the person is in group member or an out group member.

 

“If you’re looking good and you’re having a good day, people will think more highly of you. People who don’t know you but are relying on this immediate situation to make inferences about you as a person across time and situations. Their assumptions will be widely off because you might just happen to have a good day or a bad day for a variety of reasons.” – Alexander Todorov · [04:03] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

And you see this actually in chimpanzees. This is the only distinctions you need to make, but suddenly you live with strangers and it’s impossible to know everything. It’s impossible to have sufficient knowledge about the vast majority of them. And then you start relying on shortcuts and heuristics. And one of the most accessible shortcuts or heuristics in making decisions about others, is forming impressions based on their appearance. And they do rely on things like emotional impressions. So if you’re looking good and you have a good day, people will think more highly of you. People who don’t know you because they’re relying on this immediate situation to make inferences that are about you as a person across time and situations. And obviously this could be widely off because you might just happen to have a good day or a bad day for a variety of reasons.

 

Are We Constantly Scanning Random People and Making First Impressions About Them? · [04:30] 

 

Will Barron:

Well, we’ll come back to first impressions in the context of the B2B sales space of boardrooms and handshakes in a second. Well, that’s fascinating to me how you describe this then, Alexander, of when we’re walking down the street then, and we’re in London city, there’s thousands of people around us, we’re in New York, wherever it is. Are we making snap judgments about every single person or are we blind to some individuals and making snap judgments, and first impressions on only those that perhaps that may be a threat to us? I guess this is coming on in our subconscious, but how is all of this managed?

 

Alexander Todorov:

This is a very interesting question. And there isn’t that much exact empirical work, we have done some work looking at what kinds of faces emerge faster in consciousness. And this is consistent with your hypothesis that it’s threatening faces, more masculine face are more likely to emerge in consciousness. But generally when you’re walking in a busy city like London or New York, there are too many people and we just have a limited amount of attention.

 

Alexander Todorov:

So it’s not that we register everything, things that are sudden or out of the ordinary, we do register at some level somewhat semi subconsciously. And then if it’s something that draws attention to us, like sudden movement or somebody who is dressed completely out of context or somebody who is extremely attractive, these are things that can naturally draw our attention.

 

How to Stand Out and Make a Great First Impression to Strangers · [05:55] 

 

Will Barron:

It seems like the, I don’t know if you’ve seen the film The Matrix, but there’s a scene in that where there’s a beautiful blonde kind of walking back. I think she’s in a red dress at the time. So is that the kind of thing that were, that stands out to us? That’s the difference in this glum scene in that film that makes us pay attention?

 

“In principle, people make all kinds of inferences about people just based on appearance. But the three big ones, when you don’t have any specific goal in mind, they have to do with attractiveness, which is not surprising. Trustworthiness, which has to do with emotional signals and whether the person is approachable or not. And dominance, and dominance is all about hyper masculinity and physical strength.” Alexander Todorov · [06:31] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

Yeah. Things that are generally salient and rewarding or threatening, they immediately attract our attention. And attractiveness is one of these attributes of the environment that we naturally pay attention to. In principle, people make a variety of all kinds of inferences about people from appearance. But the three big ones, when you don’t have any specific goal in mind, they have to do with attractiveness, which is not surprising, trustworthiness, which has to do with emotional signals and whether the person is approachable or not. And dominance and dominance is all about hyper masculinity and physical strength.

 

How to Build Rapport Quickly in B2B Sales and Leave a Positive First Impression · [07:00] 

 

Will Barron:

If we want to make a good impression then, because some of this is relevant, I’m not sure about the hyper masculinity, if you’re wearing a suit. I guess you could still see if someone’s a big dude that could rip your head off if he chose to. And I know this from Brazilian jujitsu, that there’s small dudes there that can rip your head off more so than some of the bigger fellas that go. So a lot of this is I guess, primal programming in our brain versus consciously knowing that well that guy’s a black belt in jujitsu, whereas that guy’s just a big meathead.

 

Will Barron:

So with that in mind, if we’re in a B2B context, we’re all wearing suits, we’re all walking into a room or we’re just about shake hands, we’ve met down the corridor. What do we need to do from an attractiveness or a trustworthiness position? Does the clothes that we were affect that? Should we go in being all happy and energetic? Let me rephrase the question. What builds the most rapport quickest? Is it’s being slowly introduced into that individual or is it coming at them wearing a pink suit and grabbing their attention quickly? Which is most likely to build rapport and trustworthiness?

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well, first you’re absolutely right, that this signals are completely imperfect. Even in the case of dominance. Not having any knowledge, people rely on body size. And as you said, that could be a misleading signal. But on average would be a good proxy for physical strength. And then how do you build up trust and what is the best way to build a first impressions? Well, it very much depends on the context, appearing in a pink suit for a bank position, probably wouldn’t do well for you. But maybe if it’s in the Silicon Valley it’ll do just fine. There would be different professional environments which will tolerate eccentricity more or less. And so that would depend.

 

Alexander Todorov:

And in fact, clothing is just as important as facial appearance. And people think that facial appearance is something that is immutable and interchangeable. And this is true for our morphological features. But a lot of this is grooming. I mean, whether you have a beard or not, long hair, short hair, this is all signals. And many of these signals communicate things about ourselves. Some of them we choose to do strategically. Some of them are fairly implicit as a function of the social groups we belong to, or we aspire to belong to.

 

“Without having any other information, people will draw inferences about you based on what they’re seeing. That they can change based on subsequent encounters and experiences with you. But they will draw inferences.” Alexander Todorov · [09:52] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

But we’ve actually done a number of studies. You can take exactly the same face. And in the one case, they wear a kind of more professional, richer looking clothes. And in the other case, they’re not as rich looking. Only the clothes, it’s identical face, and we are not talking about shabby clothes. They’re perfectly nice clothes. And then if you show this to strangers in an experiment, people who see the face with more professional looking clothes, think that the person is more competent. So in general, whatever information is available out there, not having any other information, people will draw inferences about you based on what they’re seeing. That they can correct based on subsequent encounters and experience with you. But they will draw inferences.

 

Will Barron:

I don’t know what this means, but I know on YouTube when I wore a plain t-shirt like this, like I’m doing in this interview, for everyone who’s listening to this show, I’ve just got a plain grey t-shirt on. I get more clicks on the image when it’s a picture of me wearing a t-shirt than when I’m wearing a shirt. So it’s somewhat casual shirt with checks on, not a suit or anything. So I’m in kind of this position now where I feel more comfortable wearing a shirt on a conversation like this. I feel it’s more appropriate. I feel like perhaps you would take me more seriously in this interview. If I was wearing a shirt.

 

Alexander Todorov:

I usually wear a t-shirt too.

 

Will Barron:

Well it’s like I’ve dressed down and you’ve dressed up slightly. But this is interesting to me because clearly if I went, as you alluded to then, the role of if I went to a bank to do some kind of huge transaction, unless I’m in Silicon Valley and I’m wearing flip flops and I look like some crazy startup investor, it’s very unlikely that they’re going to take me seriously. Versus if I go in a nice blue suit or something along those lines.

 

Common Misconceptions About Appearance and First Impressions · [11:15] 

 

Will Barron:

So on all this, it seems like the answer is, it depends, but are there any misconceptions about what we wear, how we groom ourselves, how we interact within that first impression that perhaps are setting us back and we’re not realising they are?

 

“People tend to trust their first impressions. But they’re very weak signals, yet many of us act like they’re actually accurate. So if you interacted with a person for a few seconds, and then you decided they’re just not a good person, it wouldn’t matter if you’re never going to have interactions with this person ever again. But if this happened to be a coworker or a neighbour, there could be long-term repercussions that are not going to be good for anybody.” – Alexander Todorov · [11:32] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well misconceptions to the extent that people tend to trust their first impressions. And they’re very weak signals, but many of us act like they’re actually accurate. So if you interacted with a person, you didn’t have a very good interactions. I mean, you’re talking about a few seconds, and then you decided they’re just not a good person. And in some situation, it wouldn’t matter if you’re never going to have interactions with this person ever again. But if this happened to be a coworker or a neighbour, there could be long term repercussions that are not going to be good for anybody.

 

Alexander Todorov:

And the evidence that this impressions are accurate is very, very weak. Here’s an example. People think that they can tell the political affiliation of a person. So you show pictures of Democrats and Republicans, and they have to guess who is the Democrat or the Republican. And across many studies people actually better than chance. But what does that mean? Now, if I have two pictures, and I just flip a coin, I’ll be accurate 50% of the time. Now people accurate about 55% of the time. Which is significantly better than chance, but it’s really, really very poor signal.

 

Alexander Todorov:

And in fact, you can get better performance if you rely on a really dumb heuristic. So if you have a man and a woman, you say, well, I’ll guess that the woman is the Democrat, because there’s a correlation between gender and affiliation. Well, if it’s ethnic minority versus Caucasian, I will guess the ethnic minority is the Democrat. Or if there’s a big difference in age I’ll guess the younger person. If all of this, I’ll flip a coin. And if you do this, you end up about 62%. So you’re much better off than relying on whatever you think in the face. So generally we overweight this impressions in facial appearance.

 

Internal and External Factors That Influence How People Make First Impressions · [13:28] 

 

Will Barron:

When an individual is making a snap decision on someone based on their appearance, how much of that decision is based on the mood, the attitude in that moment in time? So for example, if we did that experiment, you just described and it’s kind of 50%, it’s almost kind of non-significant and you tested the same people over and over and over. I don’t know how you’d do that with the same images, maybe you’d have to wipe their brain somehow in between each one. Clearly it’s getting less and less practical as this thought experiment goes out, but different times of the day, different moods, whether someone’s tired or not, how does that affect whether someone has a positive or negative impression?

 

Alexander Todorov:

You are actually absolutely right. And this is one of the problems with believing in the accuracy of first impressions when it comes to describing the character of a person. Because these momentary states have a huge effect on what we think about the person, not knowing them at all. Obviously for people that you are familiar like friends and family and colleagues you know a lot, enough about them so you don’t need to infer in general from their momentary state. But you immediately thinking what provoked this emotional state.

 

Alexander Todorov:

We’ve actually built a number of computer models and different impressions, which means that we can visualise it. This is all on my website and in my book, there are lots of illustrations. But what it means is that we start with faces that are generated by a statistical model. So what is important is each face is a set of numbers and then randomly vary. And then we can give it to people like you and ask you to make decisions like whether the face looks trustworthy, competent and so on. And then we can visualise the changes in the face that are driving your judgement . So we can see, oh, this is the prototype of a trustworthy looking face.

 

Alexander Todorov:

And one of the most important signals is emotional expressions. So we didn’t manipulate emotional expressions in our studies. We didn’t, and we don’t do it when we conduct these kind of studies. But emotional expressions emerge naturally. So when you’re increasing the appearance of a face, increasing the “trustworthiness” of the face, the face suddenly starts smiling. It looks happy. And this is kind of expression that signals in ordinary circumstances, approach behaviour. If somebody smiles to you, they’re willing to talk to you, they’re probably going to be helpful. On the other end, when you’re increasing the untrustworthy appearance of the face, the face acquire this disgruntled expression. And this is the kind of person you would typically avoid, unless you don’t have another choice. And this is the only person you can ask for help, or you need to talk to.

 

Alexander Todorov:

This is the other thing there. Other interesting experiments that probably all of us can relate to. But there are studies done in Sweden, where they take pictures of people after they have a good night’s sleep or after they have been sleep deprived. So imagine you haven’t slept for 30 hours. Obviously the person looks very differently.

 

Alexander Todorov:

Now, if you show these two images of the same person to two different groups of people, the people who are seeing the sleep deprived picture, they think, “Well, this person is not very smart. He’s not very attractive. And he seems somewhat depressed.” And in fact, you can sort of see in the image. And if you think about the accuracy in terms of being smart, this is accurate here and now because all of us, if you are sleep deprived, you’re not going to do well. Whether it’s driving a car, trying to read something, anything that is require a minimum amount of attention, we all just not very good at it.

 

Alexander Todorov:

So this judgement is accurate in the immediate situation, but it’s obviously completely inaccurate in terms of what the person says. Like in general, this is entirely dependent to sync an image in their momentary state. And it doesn’t have to be an image. I mean, if you interact with a sleep deprived person, you can tell that they’re a little bit slow.

 

First Impressions and the Science of Meeting New People · [17:39] 

 

Will Barron:

And I don’t know again, if this has been studied, but the responses of the people who are making these snap judgments, how much of a difference do they then perhaps treat an individual based on the assumption that they’ve made? Do they keep this at the back of the mind and then wait for the individual to prove or disprove it, or do they immediately, if someone is looking tired, are they less interested in engaging with that individual, for example?

 

Alexander Todorov:

It’s rather the latter. So not having any information people will act on this first impressions. Of course, if they get information to the contrary, they will change their behaviour. There are actually quite a lot of studies that are looking at the consequence of this first impressions. In my own lab, we did lots of, lots of studies predicting political elections. And this is actually the line of work that got me interested in studying first impressions. But we will show pictures of the very first study that we did now, almost 15 years ago. We will show pictures of politicians running for the US Senate, the winner and the runner up, or if it was prospectively the Democrat and the Republican. And these are people who have no idea that they even looking at politicians. We use only judgements of people who are [inaudible 00:18:55] with respect to who the people are.

 

Alexander Todorov:

And judgements of who appears more competent, just using this simple judgement we could predict about 70% of the election outcome, Senate elections. And there’ve been dozen of international replications. There are a lot of economic games, in the social sciences there are often games, like there’s a standard investment game. So I have $20 and I can decide whether they invest in you or not. So if I invest in you, everything triples, so now I have $60. Now, if you’re trustworthy person, maybe you split it up. So you give me 15, so we are both better off, but it’s in your selfish interest to keep all of the amount of money.

 

“First impressions in business matter because people are actually much more likely to invest in trustworthy looking people.” Alexander Todorov · [19:47] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

And so there are many experiments where manipulate the appearance of the person you’re playing, who you think you’re playing with. And what happens is people actually much more likely to invest in trustworthy looking people. Now, if you play over repeated trials and now I actually see whether you reciprocate or not, I quickly calibrate my behaviour. And now I rely on what you did in the past. There still affect surprising of appearance, but it is much, much weaker now. It’s still more likely to invest in trustworthy looking people.

 

The Ideal Avatar of a More Trustworthy Person · [20:16] 

 

Will Barron:

So let me paint a picture for you here. And then we can reverse engineer the ultimate B2B sales professional from a trust perspective. So perhaps, and this is what my world, when I used to sell medical devices, I’d go into the NHS here in the UK. And if I wasn’t lucky enough to get right in the front of the deal and set it up from our terms typically, or if it was a huge value, over two, 3 million pounds, it would go to tender.

 

Will Barron:

Typically then they wanted us to spend as little time with everyone as possible so there was no kind of influence going on, and they would want standard boring corporate B2B presentations with a slideshow. So if we imagine this scenario, there is a free for that will we’ll use men and women as well, we’ll have another layer of complexity to it perhaps. Who or what would be the ideal avatar of the most trustworthy person who is going to walk into a room, they’re going to give that first impression, so forget the presentation, I guess, but they’ve not met anyone before. Would it be a man, a woman? How tall, how strong would they be? And then perhaps what would they be wearing as just a few variables to get started with?

 

“In trustworthiness and first impressions, positive expressions lead to positive inferences. So you need to be relaxed as much as you can. You don’t need to be grinning, but you need to be approachable.” Alexander Todorov · [21:33] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well, I mean, again, this is all highly hypothetical and will depend on the context, but if you’re just looking at the models that you’ve built on trustworthiness, as I said, positive expressions lead to these inferences. So you need to be relaxed as much as you can. And you don’t need to be grinning, but you need to be approachable. And feminine faces actually perceived as more trustworthy. But when you bring gender, you do bring a whole nother layer of complexity because gender brings with it all kinds of stereotypes. And many of these stereotypes don’t favour women in professional context. We actually done a number, we just had a paper accepted where we did a number of studies looking at impressions of competence. And when we built a model of incompetence, a very important impression, especially in professional context, as you want somebody who is really competent, if they’re trying to sell you equipment, you need to believe not only that they are trustworthy, but that they have a really reliable opinion.

 

“The three major ingredients of competence, based on appearance are attractiveness, masculinity, expressions of confidence.” Alexander Todorov · [23:13] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

And the interesting thing, when we built a model of competence, it doesn’t seem to favour men or women, but we can unpack it. Because typically more competent looking face are more attractive. This is in the psychology jargon is called it like the attractiveness halo, that average attractive people get better outcomes. But we can actually remove the attractiveness from the faces. This all mathematical model. So it’s almost trivial and look what’s left over. So we can actually make faces to look more competent, but not more attractive. And they’re really male faces that have this confident expression. So we can tell that this is the three major ingredients of competence in the stereotypes of competence based on appearance. It’s attractiveness. Women are favoured in that respect because women on average, feminine faces generally perceived as more attractive than masculine faces, attractiveness masculinity, obviously that wouldn’t favour women, and expressions of confidence.

 

The Multiple Determinants of Attractiveness · [23:38]  

 

Will Barron:

And, and when you say attractiveness, is this someone who has beautiful symmetry and have lined up appropriately for whatever the stereotype is of a super attractive face? Or is it more important that you are in shape, you’ve not got a big flabby face and you are again, stereotype of perhaps you don’t have receding hair and things like that. What I’m getting at is it how much of it is you were born, your genes make you this way, versus you’re in shape, you look after yourself and you’re confidence and calm in your own kind of persona?

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well, there are multiple determinants of attractiveness, and obviously this changes dramatically over the lifespan. And youthfulness is one of the main determinants of attractiveness, but clearly that would work against you if people are making judgements about your competence, even though there are lots of young people who are super experts and competent. But on average, it wouldn’t favour them. Symmetry, as you mentioned, is one of the determinants, but there are multiple, multiple determinants.

 

“Generally being in shape will make you look better. And in fact, not surprisingly, it’s the best predictor of longevity is how old you look relative to your biological age.” – Alexander Todorov · [25:10]

 

Alexander Todorov:

But what you said, being in shape is a great thing. Generally being in shape will make you look better. I mean, this is a fact. There’s some fascinating findings looking at elderly people, at twins. This was a large study done in Denmark on thousands of twins. And it turns out that the twin who looked younger, so we’re talking about 70 years old people, they actually lived longer. So these were twins who were followed for a long time.

 

“If you look at the determinants that make people look young, number one is genetic luck. There’s nothing we can do about it. But the second is lifestyle. So living in better circumstances, having higher socioeconomic status, not having chronic conditions, not smoking, not being overweight, among many other things. So, generally, the things that actually make you healthier also will make you look more attractive on average.” – Alexander Todorov · [25:27] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

And in fact, not surprisingly, the best predictor of longevity is your biological age and the next one, which is almost as good, and there’s no DNA test that does it better, is how old you look relative to your biological age. And that seems kind of amazing. But also if you look at what are the determinants that make you look young, well, number one is genetic luck. This is nothing we can do about it. But the second is lifestyle and having and living in better circumstances. Having a high socioeconomic status, which comes with wealth and access to healthcare. Not having chronic conditions like asthma, not smoking. Smoking is terrible for your appearance, among many other things, not being overweight. So there are all of these things, things that actually make you healthier also will make you looking better on average. And I mean faces after all our parts of our bodies.

 

Will Barron:

And because the reason I asked this, is I worked in B2B sales. I had a [inaudible 00:26:09] me around me. So I was driving around in a BMW doing thousands and thousands of miles. And it was very difficult to get good food. And then I was out the door at six o’clock in the morning and back at nine o’clock some days, depending on how hard I was hustling and what surgeons I was helping and what the theatre list were. So when I worked in sales directly, I was never in that good shape. Fortunately I’ve not got the genes to become tremendously fat. I will always be, no matter what drugs or steroids or whatever I would do in the future to put on weight, I will always be lanky and skinny. So that’s kind of my genetic makeup.

 

Will Barron:

But I worked with people who are, particularly fellas, big, large, fat dudes. And I always thought that the stereotype of that rightly or wrongly is that perhaps person is lazy. How can they look after us if they’re not looking after themselves? And I know even with surgeons I used to deal with. I know one guy who does loads of what do you call it, gastric banding and weight loss surgery, who is a big, massive guy himself. So that always made me feel weird about the individual when they were giving advice. So clearly there’s multiple levels to it. And the reason I wanted to emphasise that point is it’s clearly useful, on all fronts, to be healthy, right?

 

How to Make a Great First Impression with Proper Clothing · [27:27] 

 

Will Barron:

So I want to come into clothing and then I want to touch on cars just for a split second as well. And how perceptions of what car you get out with perhaps changes the first impression that someone has our view, good, bad, rightly or wrongly. So clothing first. So again, we’re going into this tender process here in the NHS, which is the government’s body that runs the hospital systems here. Should we be wearing a blue, super sharp Italian suit and we kind of out dress everyone in there and we look incredible? Should we be on the same level as everyone else? What makes the best first impression when you walk in that room?

 

Alexander Todorov:

You mean in terms of a sale, like the-

 

Will Barron:

In terms of someone we want the person to like us, trust us. Oh, and obviously it’s our job on the back end of all, this to actually make that true. But with regards to a first impression, what’s the most trustworthy attire that we could were when we’re dealing with perhaps a room of surgeons and executives?

 

“Humans will always engage in social comparisons, so similarity is a good thing. So your dressing should fit the context of an interaction. This is the number one rule.” Alexander Todorov · [28:31] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well, you probably don’t want to be overdressed from them. I mean, we always engage in social comparisons and similarity is a good thing. It should be fitting for the context. This is the number one rule. And the context that you’re describing, surgeon and executives, you’re probably better wearing a suit as opposed to being informally dressed. And then you probably don’t want to be too flashy. This would very much depends on the perceiver, people have individual differences. So different people will see different things in you.

 

“By and large people prefer people who are similar to them in some ways. So you are probably better off not being better dressed or sharper dressed than the executives you’re going to meet. And again, it very much depends. So if you’re actually in a higher position, maybe that’s okay. If you’re not, that’s a different story.” – Alexander Todorov · [29:10] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

We are talking about first impressions, like everybody agrees and there’s agreement. This is the reason they matter in the real world, but there’s also lots of, lots of individual differences in preferences. So the effect, it’s not going to be uniform across everybody. But by and large people prefer people who are similar to them in some ways. So you are probably better off not being better dressed or sharper addressed than the executives. And again, it very much depends what is the role? I mean, if you’re actually in a higher position, maybe that’s okay. If you’re not, that’s a different story.

 

Type of Cars That Help You Make a Positive First Impression · [29:40] 

 

Will Barron:

And this perhaps then directly translates to cars. So we both drive three litre straight six turbocharge BMWs. I’ve got Nissan GTR on the table here, is there a type of car, is there a vehicle, should we be riding push bikes to our meetings? How can we arrive at a meeting and leave the best first impression again, from a trustworthy standpoint?

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well, I could have biked this morning, but I didn’t want my shirt to get wrinkled with my bike. So I did try. I tried, on sunny days most of the time I bike to work, but it’s easy. I live in a small town, so that’s very easy. People certainly will make all kinds of inferences from the car you’re driving. And again, they might not be accurate. But cars, just like people, come with set of associations. Brands have different associations. People have various stereotypes about different kinds of brands.

 

Alexander Todorov:

And often if you’re a brand person it’s hard to overcome these kinds of stereotypes. The shapes of the cars are not random, right? I mean, some of this is physics. Sports cars, they’re much closer to the ground because of the centre of the gravity. But a lot of this is designer work that conveys the shapes of the car convey particular kinds of impressions. So family sedan done will never look like a sport car. And people like different kinds of car. And for some people driving it’s important, for others it doesn’t matter.

 

Will Barron:

Perfect. I know if you go into a hospital car park, especially where I used to park, every surgeon there pretty much would have a huge, huge Range Rover or a BMW X5. So there’s maybe there’s over conversation for things there, I don’t know.

 

Things That Always Lead to a Terrible First Impression · [31:30] 

 

Will Barron:

But Alexander on this, and we’ll wrap up with this mate, are there any things, and it seems like, so in the conversation, if we did a thousand first impressions in our B2B world, we could start to make some assumptions, we could start to see some trends. On a one to one basis it’s typically obviously more difficult than that. People have their own stereotypes. People are brought up in different ways and perhaps if you’ve had money, you might be less inclined to feel similar to one if they’ve got a nice watch on, versus if you are completely balling, if you’re a CEO, you might expect the people you’re dealing with to be at a certain level and have a nice watch on. So a lot of this is it depends.

 

Will Barron:

Is there anything that we 100% should never do and always leads to a terrible first impression other than the obvious of rather than shaking hands, slapping someone in the face. Is there anything more subtle that people are doing that are leading to negative impressions that we should immediately stop?

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well, being crude has never been helpful, never helps anybody. And I mean, every situation comes with a set of rules. Most of the time, the rules are implicit, but pretty much everybody knows what the rules at some level. And you want to conform to these rules in these kinds of situations in very first initial encounters where there’s no information about you. Being crude is not going to help anybody, being overly aggressive is not going to help.

 

Alexander Todorov:

Again, there’s cultural context. I used to live in England for a year before I moved to the states. And in England, if you say people are trying to sell you something and you say, “Well, I’ll think about it.” In England, that means no. But here in the United States, people really think, oh, he’s going to think about it so they become more aggressive. So I had to retrain myself to say, “No, I’m not interested.” So yeah. I mean, being completely out of the rules, out of the space of the expectations can hurt you. And even if you are absolutely stellar for the position.

 

Alexander’s Advice to His Younger Self on How to Become Better at Selling · [33:35] 

 

Will Barron:

Right, I’ve got one final question for you. I know that you are clearly for the conversation so far, you’re an incredible researcher scientist. So I know you’re not an out and out sales person, but everyone has to sell, everyone has to be able to influence. You’ve got to get your funding in the papers sorted. So you will have some insights on this I’m sure. So Alexander, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would be the one piece of advice you’d give him to help him become better at selling?

 

Alexander Todorov:

Better at selling? I haven’t thought about that. I’ve thought what I would have done differently to become a better scientist when I was younger.

 

Will Barron:

Or let me rephrase it. What would you go back and tell yourself to help him become better at either communicating or perhaps influencing others?

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well, it’s difficult. I mean, generally extroverted people are much better in this than others. And I think I used to be more introverted when I was younger and things have changed over time. And a lot of this is practise, practise. One of the most stressful experiences for people is to give a talk in front of strangers. And people who haven’t done that they think it’s easy, but in psychology, this is often used as a stressor. This is a standard test, that three strangers you’ve never seen and they have this expressions that don’t seem to like what you’re saying. And this is very stressful. But actually practise, practise, practise. So if you a teacher or professor, that’s what you do for living so soon, it’s easy to overcome these kinds of stressors and it’s difficult to change your personality, but certain things that can help you if you’re going to sell, you need to be comfortable with other people around. And this is the most important thing. And it starts obviously with your friends and then, and this is the key. I mean, people need to like you, people need to see you as approachable, as accessible, as trustworthy.

 

“Reputation is absolutely everything. You might make a bad first impression but then build up a great reputation and people will follow you. You can make a great first impression but, in the end, if people think they’re being cheated, that will be the end of your relationship with these people. So I think reputation and integrity are values that they cut across society.” Alexander Todorov · [35:59] 

 

Alexander Todorov:

And one very important caveat is we are talking about first impression that have no any information whatsoever. But if you have repeated interactions and transactions with people, people will rely on your history. So if you already establish a reputation, your reputation is everything. And this certainly in science, I’m sure it’s certain in sales and any professions where have reputation is absolutely everything. And you might make a bad first impressions but then build up a great reputation and people will go with you. They wouldn’t care about anything else. So you can make a great first impressions but at the end, if people think that they’re being cheated, that will be the end of your relationship with these people. So I think reputation and integrity are values that they cut across society. And this is the most important thing.

 

Parting thoughts · [36:39] 

 

Will Barron:

What an answer, that was an incredible answer. I appreciate that, the audience do as well. With that Alexander, tell us a little bit about the book where we can find it and then where we can perhaps find out a little bit more about you as well.

 

Alexander Todorov:

Well, the book is called Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions. It actually covers a lot of what we talked about, what are the determinants of first impressions? What are the facial features that make us look trustworthy or untrustworthy? How different images of ourselves can change the impressions of what other people of us. Why we shouldn’t overvalue, over trust, this first impressions and so on.And so on. It’s available on Amazon, it’s available on Princeton University press and many other places where you certainly can order it online. I try to write an accessible book. It’s still a serious book. I’m not going to lie to you because I said reputation is the most important thing. It’s not a book which has easy recipes you’ll do one, two, three and that will change your life. I don’t have this kind of recipes, but I try to write an enjoyable, interesting, and a serious book at the same time.

 

Will Barron:

Perfect. Well, I’ll link to all of that and I’ll link to your Princeton profile and bio as well if anyone who wants to a little bit more about what you’re up to. And with that, I want to thank you for your time and I always say this when people want “sales experts” to come on the show, there’s a little bit of a risk coming on a show like this, I guess when it’s not totally within your wheelhouse. I appreciate the hustle and coming on Alexander, I really do. And I want to thank you for joining us on the Salesman Podcast.

 

Alexander Todorov:

Thank you for having me, Will.

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