By Amy Shearn
Cut these habits out of every first encounter and watch the world discover just how intelligent and charming you really are.
Mistake #1: Offering To Order Everyone Drinks From The Open Bar
It doesn't look like a mistake. It doesn't smell like a mistake. In fact, it seems like exactly the right thing to do: Who doesn't love the lady with the tray of daiquiris? But according to contemporary research, when people do a favor for you, they tend to subconsciously justify their actions by assuming they helped you out because they like you. Plus, asking someone a favor makes her feel useful, which can be a generally pleasant sensation. So ask a new friend if she wouldn't mind bringing you a vodka soda from the open bar, and watch a sudden warmth bloom between you. (It's not just the vodka soda talking. It's SCIENCE.)
Mistake #2: Connecting By Complaining
Sharing gripes is an easy way to bond -- after all, everyone has so many -- but what starts as an ice-breaker can quickly launch a snark spiral. You have the right idea, which is to find common ground. Say a co-worker at your new job mentions the way your boss only invites a few favored employees to eat lunch with her every day -- a habit you've noticed, as well. Instead of saying, "And another annoying thing she does is..." try something like, "I've never been a big fan of the middle-school cafeteria, either. Actually, I was thinking of going out to eat, but I can't decide where to go -- do you know of a good place around here?" Something that acknowledges the complaints you share but redirects them in a more productive -- or at least more neutral -- way.
Mistake #3: Pretending That You Don't Know A Lot About Each Other, When You Actually Do
Let's acknowledge that it can be awkward to meet someone after having admired her Instagram food photography from afar, or having heard stories from mutual friends. So you say nothing; you pretend she really is a stranger, and that's even more awkward, because she probably knows that you know, and you know that she knows that you know and, oh, the whole run-around makes it seem like you aren't paying attention or simply don't care. There is nothing more off-putting than feeling like someone cares so little about you that they can't even be bothered to acknowledge your semi-shared history. Even if it feels weird, say, "I loved those cupcake photos you tagged Sam in," or even just the plain, vanilla, "The new girlfriend! Hi, I've heard so many wonderful things about you." Compliments: the easiest way to make potentially awkward situations more comfortable for everyone.
Mistake #4: Confusing Dominance And Confidence
Striking a wide-legged, straight-backed, confidence-exuding power pose (the way your career coach or favorite magazine told you to) leaves a strong impression. Ask Amy Cuddy, the Harvard social psychologist who has done numerous studies on how body language can actually change the way you feel, to the point of altering your body chemistry. If you stand up straight and take up more space with your body, you increase testosterone in your body, decrease cortisol and physically begin to feel more dominant. Which seems like the perfect stance for making a strong first impression. But it's not the only piece of the puzzle.
This same psychologist has also found that dominating someone is not the best way to gain his or her trust, and that to be powerful in any setting, you need to have that trust. Cuddy recently told Wired, "If you are trusting, if you project trust, people are more likely to trust you." Cuddy notes that people often think, "'I better get the floor first so that I can be in charge of what happens.' The problem with this is that you don't make the other person feel warmth toward you. Warmth is really about making the other person feel understood. They want to know that you understand them." Her suggestion? Project trust by letting the other person speak first.
Mistake #5: Introducing People In The Wrong Order
Here is the mistake you never knew you were making, because 99.9 percent of the time, it isn't actually a faux pas. But that .1 percent of the time that it comes up, you have a chance to get this 100 percent right. It's really easy, and invisible to everyone but the elderly and extremely proper: When introducing people to one another, speak first to the person you want to honor, and be sure to use both of their full names and titles. Which is to say, when the city councilman visits your church and you want to connect him with your friend, you say, "Councilman Fredericks, may I introduce my friend Billy Williams. Billy, this is Councilman Fred Fredericks." Look at you, acing your fancy-etiquette opportunity with flying colors.
(P.S. This handy chart from Emily Post is a good refresher for this and other first-meeting manners your grandmother taught you.)
Amy Shearn is the author of The Mermaid of Brooklyn: A Novel.