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5 Minutes to Make the Best First Impression

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Business people meeting

You’ve been assigned a new project, and today is the first meeting. How do you make the best first impression? Shift your mindset and cultivate a positive attitude – there’s a simple trick to this. According to Adam Galinsky and Gavin Kilduff (Adam Galinsky, Professor at Columbia Business School and Gavin J. Kilduff, Assistant Professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business), “Anyone can achieve higher status on a team by temporarily shifting her mind-set before a first meeting. The attitude with which you enter a new group—something completely within your control—can help boost your chances of leading it.”

First impressions matter more than ever, and you can improve your first impression with a simple five-minute exercise. Take out a pen and paper and write a few sentences describing your ambitions and what you hope to achieve in life. Then describe an incident in which you had influence over another person – maybe someone you mentored, or a younger sibling you helped in some way. Finally, write about a time when you felt excited and joyful. These three exercises, called priming tasks, are designed to trigger—or prime—the brain into entering three different psychological states. The first, your ambitions and goals, helps you promote yourself by focusing on your goals and aspirations. The second one, about a time when you had influence over someone else, creates a feeling of power. The third one, a time when you felt excited or joyful, boosts your feelings of happiness.

Written down, these three elements form your “confidence card.” You can keep it in your wallet, in a notebook you use regularly, or even put it on your desk. Look at it anytime you need a boost, and especially before an important meeting or presentation. You will notice a difference – and so will your co-workers!

Why does this work? According to research by Galinsky and Kilduff, priming your brain in these three areas activates the left frontal regions of the brain which deals with verbal abilities and positive emotions, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and increases optimism and confidence. These effects can cause behavioral changes. For example, people primed to feel powerful are more likely to take action, such as initiating a conversation in a group. People primed to focus on promotion and happiness offer more ideas in brainstorming and guessing tasks. Best of all, the research revealed that people primed in these states were seen as having significantly higher status in the group than those who weren’t — the primed participants were more respected and more likely to be seen as leaders.

Putting It to Work 

So how can you turn this research to your advantage? Before you embark on your next group project or meet with colleagues you don’t know well, simply read over your “confidence card” ahead of time. Whether you focus on promotion, power, happiness, or all three, you’ll see results.

Conventional wisdom says that success comes from having the right attributes: being in the right place at the right time. This research into brain priming suggests that it is also a matter of having the right attitude: being in the right frame of mind at the right time.

Bonus Trick:

Your brain physiologically processes anxiety and excitement very similarly, so you can actually shift yourself from feeling anxious to excited just by telling yourself: “I’m excited!” So whip out your confidence card and say “I’m excited!” to yourself before your next meeting. See how that changes your outlook, your confidence, and your success.

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