Within the first three to five minutes of meeting someone new, that person will have formed a strong feeling about who you are, how much they will like, trust and have confidence in you, and whether they will want to form a relationship with you. And you will reach the same conclusions about them.
This is the message of "Contact: The First Four Minutes: A Practical Approach to Meeting the Right Person" (Ballantine Books, 1994).
The verbal and non-verbal messages we send can be important in both our personal and professional lives, no matter who we are. This is true in interviewing for a job, soliciting business, greeting a new potential customer, meeting people at social functions or in potential dating relationships.
Thus it would not only help each of us to focus upon these critical first four minutes, we should also teach our children, grandchildren, employees, students and anyone else we care about to focus on them as well. My wife has included a summary of "The First Four Minutes" in her training manual at Walker Physical Therapy for years to guide her employees on ways better to greet and serve her patients, and she says it has worked famously well.
The four factors that are most effective in initial verbal contacts are confidence, creativity, caring and consideration — otherwise known as the Four Cs. Any successful initial encounter must convey at least a threshold amount of self-confidence. Being timid, apologetic or self-deprecating does not inspire confidence and, when seen as a first impression, make a meaningful relationship problematic.
Showing creativity not only displays innovation and problem-solving, it also implies sensitivity to the feelings of others. People are attracted to others who show that they can take a large amount of diverse information, make sense of it, and come up with creative ways of getting the job done.
People are seen as being caring if they give complete attention to their new acquaintance.
Dale Carnegie said it best: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
Being considerate is shown by the absence of criticism and by not doing things to imply that you are superior and others are inadequate. One way of showing this is by gently helping your new acquaintances to clarify or expound upon their thoughts as they are expressing them.
A good way to display each of these important traits is to ask questions about your new acquaintance's nationality, occupation, marital status and even the derivation of their name, and then listen to and follow up upon their answers.
You can also ask questions about their attitudes about timely subjects, such as sports, movies or current events in the outside world, as well as their opinions about them. Through this approach you can quickly find things you have in common, such as growing up in the same city, rooting for the same ball team, having young children, etc.
Common bonds can create relationships.
Often you can get a response from people who are more shy or reticent to offer information by offering an insight about yourself that is not too personal or embarrassing, such as "I was always shy when I was a child," or "I would really love to learn to play the guitar, (or travel to Hawaii)," and then ask if they had similar experiences or desires.
Another way of bonding is to offer a compliment to someone. By doing that you are really saying to that person, "I like you," or "You seem to be a special person," or even "I would like to get to know you better." But the compliment must always be sincere, or it will (appropriately) have a negative effect.
Using humor or humorous situations in the first four minutes can also be an effective way to bring new acquaintances into your circle of friends, as long as your comments are in good taste, and they really are humorous. It works, but be careful in this area.
Other successful approaches are asking for advice and listening carefully and appreciatively as your new acquaintance offers assistance. Or you can also suggest that this person reminds you of someone you know, and then provide some exotic details that will show how interesting that other person is.
Finally, courtesy to others is always noticed and appreciated.
Non-verbal contacts are equally important in making a good first impression. These include good eye contact, nodding your head in agreement or encouragement, giving your new acquaintances enough space by not physically crowding them, giving a warm and firm handshake, personal cleanliness and dressing in the way that would attract the type of person you want to attract.
By no means do you want to be or come off as being a phony or a hypocrite by adopting any of these approaches. But being aware of these tips and using them to display your natural warmth and friendship can be a win-win for you and everyone else. So give them some thought and put them into practice, and help others do the same. They will help you and other people that are important to you to have a more gratifying and successful life.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions for America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.