Having lived for many years in one of the most populated cities in the world, I have had the opportunity to make first impressions with countless others of the years. Oftentimes, I would wonder what first impressions am I making when I meet a stranger for the first time?
Being a professor of Communication for the past twenty-five years at Hofstra University and several other schools and universities, my curriculum always included first impressions and how to make the best first impression when it really counts.
For example, do you look your speaking partner in the eyes when you greet them and secondly, what is your handshake like? My most irksome first impression of others is when their handshake is weak or in the case of several women, do you hold out your hand as if you expect it to be kissed? I call that type of handshake as: "Addressing the Queen." I hate it and yet, countless people have weak handshakes!
In a world where success in the workplace holds very high status, those who make excellent first impressions with future employers are most often, the ones to succeed over those who do not.
As gay men and women, I have often heard of our concern over what first impressions we are making to others, whether good or bad. For some, the frequent question asked is: "am I coming across to others as either being obviously gay or lesbian, or, whether I am coming across as being too aggressive or unimpressive?"(I am sure that our heterosexual counterparts ask the same questions themselves).
Within my recently published book, Talk it OUT/No More Gay Shame, many of my interviewees focused on what type of first impressions they made in many social situations where they were primarily judged for their physical or sexual attractiveness. And, with regards to a certain filtering model I teach from within our chosen textbook, scientific studies suggests that most everyone views physical attraction as the primary evaluation when meeting others for the first time.
With regards to myself, I have often been told I come across to others as overly confident (which suggests I may have no right to be) or, too self assured and oftentimes, intimidating. But, to the many people I have met in my work life such as: customers, patients, or students, I have oftentimes been told I make an impression that comes across as both confident and credible and someone to be listened to.
What concerns me most, is the type of first impression we make in the social arena, such as, in making new friends, love interests, as well as, those who can help with our careers. Such as, do our first impressions work for us, or, does the opposite hold more true? For example, do you scowl or come across as dismissive or mean (a verbal and non-verbal behavior often referred to in my book on gay male communication where some men felt "invisible" to others or treated rudely).
An example of the above case scenario which involved yours truly, occurred when I recently attended an "A list" event just last week. It was there where I had the pleasure of meeting the very affable Mr. Andy Cohen of Bravo's "Housewives of Everywhere" franchise. Striking a conversation with this very amiable and sweet man, I believed a made a very good impression, even though this wasn't the first time I met the man. We met briefly at "Low Tea" at the Fire Island Pines just last summer.
Upon leaving the event to meet a friend for drinks in the area, I noticed Mr. Cohen had left at the same time as I. On the next street, our paths soon crossed and we talked briefly before a well known "out" comedienne greeted Andy joyously with her lady friend. The women also immediately included me in their greeting of Andy, obviously surmising that we were either a couple (I wish) or in the least, good friends or associates. In fact, the comedienne's lady friend constantly smiled at me as the other two talked.
Ironically, in my undue haste to join the conversation, I recalled an earlier talk I had with Mr. Cohen about his live interview show and how much I enjoyed it. Upon seeing this well know gay comedienne, I innocently suggested that he should have her be the "bartender" in his show (thinking that would be make for a funny bit of humor).
Unfortunately for me, the woman screamed obscenities at me for demeaning her career and suggesting that she take such a demeaning role, saying in no uncertain terms that, "who is this f.....kin idiot; I'm a f....kin star!" Mr. Cohen was very quick to assure her that she was indeed a star and would be a wonderful guest on any show that he produced or hosted. I felt as if I was in the middle of one of his "Housewife" reunion shows.
I then made a quick and hasty exit saying a sweet goodbye to Andy to meet my friend, (ignoring the woman) feeling like I just got "bitch-slapped" when I thought I was being complimentary and amiable.
As I headed onto my next venture, I questioned why I said what I said, and whether the bounty of champagne served at the event may have caused me not to be a little too impulsive to speak, resulting in her outburst. That, instead of talking at all, I should have just listened to their conversation until I was included to participate. Happily, I looked back at the threesome a minute later, and saw Mr. Cohen happily chatting away with the twosome now that the irritant had left.
My question to all of you, "have you ever experienced a similar faux pais with someone you hoped to impress and instead, felt like the proverbial fool? Or, do I stand alone in my embarrassment and disgrace? At least I had the sense to walk away from the situation rather than try to "dig myself out of it" and making things worse.
For one, I will be very cautious the next time I see Mr. Cohen or, the "lady in question," at any LGBT or social function we all happen to attend. Needless to say, I will be quick to apologize and attempt to restore any shred of dignity I may still have with either of them.
Hopefully, Mr. Cohen found the entire interaction amusing and a part of his life as of late night entertainment and has become skilled in dealing with many large personalities who seem to have the permission to say anything their heart desires and, at any time!
I, for one, will always remember that interaction and endeavor to be more quiet and attentive to those who clearly "own the floor" more than I do. If I did so at the time, the meeting may have gone in a completely different direction.
For myself, I need to remember to learn from my mistakes otherwise, we are bound to repeat them."
Similarly, as in my instructions to my students, there are those in power who do "own the floor" and we must respect that power and know when it is appropriate to speak up and when it is not. Also, if you are coming from a social situation where alcohol played a primary factor, try to be a little more cautious of what you might say. If not, you may find yourself in situations where the results may be irreparable. I hope in my circumstance, that will not be the case, since I did have the best of intentions.
Unfortunately, as Judge Judy said in a recent episode of her infamous show, "You only have one chance to make a good first impression!"
In that case, my interaction with the famous comedienne may never be repaired but, hopefully, I will learn from my mistake and proceed with caution in the future while passing on that same caution to all of you. Of course, writing about my experience here, certainly helps in putting all the pieces of the interaction puzzle in clearer perspective.
After all, in quoting the infamous quote from one of England's greatest poets, Alexander Pope, "to err is human, to forgive, divine." Thank you.