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Here’s how to make a good first impression

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Negotiation touches every part of our lives. Relationships in business and in our personal lives are negotiated. And the skills to do it effectively can often mean the difference between getting what you want or losing out. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate!

In the first section of the book, How to be a Great Negotiator, written by property economist, investor and developer Neville Berkowitz, the characteristic traits of a great negotiator are explored in short, bite-sized nuggets of advice.

Over the next few months, we will bring you the traits needed to succeed at the art of negotiating.

(Courtesy of PersonalEmpowerment.co)

91 Personal appearance

As unfair as it may seem, in the first thirty seconds of any meeting your outward appearance is often more important than who you are inside. In those first thirty seconds your appearance will be assessed and judged by the other party, and a perception or impression of you will be created that will linger in their minds. And a bad impression can be hard to change. Simply put, in the first moments of any encounter strive to be present, sincere, honest, authentic, friendly, presentable, steady of eye, firm of hand, and convincing of voice. But there’s more to it than that.

Consider the first look others have of you, and see yourself from their point of view. The first thing people usually notice is your bearing and stature.  So, whether  you’re  sitting or standing, hold yourself erect and make direct, positive eye contact. Good posture and positive eye contact communicate strength and self-confidence. It projects a winning self-image. Don’t slouch, slump your shoulders, or lower your head. Don’t make tentative eye contact or no eye contact. That projects insecurity, poor self-image, lack of confidence, and possible untrustworthiness.

As you extend your hand in the customary handshake, keep your lower arm well-extended with a firm wrist and firm grip, and make direct, confident eye contact as you shake hands. If your arm is barely extended, people feel you are “not reaching out” to them. If your wrist is floppy or your hand is limp, you create an impression of weakness, or of not caring, or even of coldness or unfriendliness that can be off-putting or irritating to the other party. To be seen as weak by the other party in a negotiation is to be seen as a loser. To be seen as unfriendly is a turn-off. People don’t want to be associated or do business with losers, grouches, or cold fish.

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Eye contact is vital. Maintaining and renewing eye contact establishes your inner authority. But avoid prolonged eye contact that becomes staring. Also avoid tentative, too little, or no eye contact which can create an impression of uncertainty, doubt, disconnection, lack of confidence, or even unfriendliness or untrustworthiness.

Smiling is also important but not necessary in all first encounters. A smile, or not, is a matter of intuition and discretion, as well as location. There is no need to smile during a first introduction at a serious or grim negotiation. Merely being present and making positive eye contact is enough. But if a moment of levity comes, take full advantage.

In most first encounters, a half- smile or a full smile is appropriate. But, if it feels right in the moment, a strong, confident smile or even a wide happy smile can also be appropriate. But not smiling accompanied by poor eye contact or even a frown creates a negative impression. People may feel that you are bored, irritated, insincere, impatient etc. You want people to feel that you are happy to be meeting them, and are a cheerful, optimistic person in general. Also, take good care of your teeth, as they flash a message every time you smile or speak.

As you shake hands and make eye contact, greet the other persons and say their names in an energetic tone. For example, “How do you do, Mr. Brown?” or “Hi, Jim, glad to meet you.” This direct, energetic greeting is acceptable to most of the Western world. When doing business in other areas around the world that have their own unique greeting protocols regarding eye contact, handshakes, smiles, or bowing, it’s up to you to learn them before visiting. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” applies.

Let’s consider other basic elements from which first impressions are formed:


Is it clean, neat, styled? Is it unruly, uncombed, dirty? Is it unusual? Purple? Pink? Multicolored? A mohawk? A ponytail? Braided? People draw impressions and make associations from all these things. So, know who you are and the kind of impression you want to make and style accordingly.

Facial hairbig beard

All facial hair is a visible stylistic choice that draws immediate attention and sets you apart from the clean-shaven status quo. Facial hair, in all its various shapes, styles, and conditions, can be initially distracting and can have unintended effects. If you have facial hair, do you know what image you are trying to project? Is that image compatible with your vocation as a negotiator? In earlier centuries, when shaving was more difficult, facial hair was the norm and considered manly and distinguished. But in our modern age facial hair can raise subliminal questions and associations, and may even make people wonder about you. Do your beard, moustache, sideburns, or crown reflect your eccentricity, a poor sense of taste or style, or laziness in grooming? Is it something to hide behind, a cover for a defect, a gesture of non-conformity, a rejection of social norms, or part of your religious beliefs? Rightly or wrongly, facial hair does raise subtle initial questions in the minds of the clean-shaven who, in most Western cultures, vastly outnumber the hirsute. We’re not saying facial hair is bad or wrong. Just make sure it serves who you are and what you do. Make sure you can “pull it off”. And make sure it looks good.


There is little you can do about your height or lack thereof. Height is often associated with authority, but being tall doesn’t automatically bestow authority. Yet shorter people often do have to prove themselves more by demonstrating energy, intelligence, confidence, and initiative, and by making a strong impression. In the same way, people who are thinner and fitter tend to have a first-impression advantage over people who are overweight; smartly groomed people have a first-impression advantage over people who are slovenly, eccentrically dressed, or stylistically clueless. You can wear thick-soled shoes and stand tall if you need to.

Fitness and weightugly man taking a selfie

Your height is something you’re born with. Being fit and thin is a lifestyle choice you can make. Being fit and thin is often interpreted as being self-disciplined, focused, strong-willed, and dynamic. Conversely, being overweight or unfit is often interpreted as a lack of self-discipline or laziness and self-indulgence.


Women tend to assess each other’s use or non-use of makeup and draw conclusions accordingly. Men also assess women’s use of makeup to a lesser extent. If you are a woman, the main thing is to make sure your makeup doesn’t distract or draw needless attention, and that it suits the environment and purpose of the negotiations.


Jewellery, watches, glasses, earrings, nose rings, piercings, nail polish, the condition of nails and toenails (if exposed), tattoos, purses, briefcases, computer bags, and other accessories will all be assessed and impressions will be formed. The same principle holds that ideally these things will not distract or draw needless attention, and that they will suit the environment and purpose of the negotiations. Or make sure you have sufficient skills and charm as a negotiator to overcome any undesirable first impressions some of these accessories may make.

Clothessuccess attitude

Your clothes, belt, tie, stockings or socks, and shoes ought to be of suitable appearance, clean, relatively in style, and in good condition. As a general rule your clothes ought to be a little better than those of the party you are meeting with, but not so much as to intimidate or make the other party feel self-conscious about their clothes. And, of course, if you have a chosen style that works for you and that you feel comfortable and confident in, stick with it. Women must also consider the degree of exposure of shoulders, breasts, midriffs and legs. Again, dress in a manner suitable to the occasion.


Your office will also be assessed for neatness, orderliness, personal effects, décor, and size. Do the best with the space you have to create an attractive or elegant décor, and prepare and clean the space before a meeting.

Business cards/public presence

Your business card, letterhead, report covers, website, e-mail headings, and, if applicable, your Facebook page, Twitter communications, and the Google search results for your name all create an impression and a perception of who you are. Use these elements to create a public presence that effectively communicates what makes you interesting, trustworthy, and unique.

Speechconfident woman speaking

The quality of your voice, your choice of vocabulary, and the clarity and tone of your speech reveal a lot about you. So, make an effort to speak clearly, articulately, in measured tones, and in a voice that can be heard in every corner of the room. Don’t be shy or tentative, don’t mumble or speak hesitantly, and don’t have long pauses between thoughts. Listen and learn from good public speakers. Practice at home or find a place like Toastmasters to practice in public.

Great negotiators do everything within their power to make a great first impression. And all the elements mentioned combine to create that first impression. Each element represents a personal choice in taste, style, self-expression and self-identity, and their sum creates a visual and virtual representation of you. So be conscious in these choices, and let them represent authentic qualities in you that are truly impressive.


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