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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Ways to Recover After Making a Bad First Impression

Bad first impressions are a fact of life. The good news is, with hard work and consistency, you can recover and show the true you. Here's how.

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Offer a sincere apology

Bad first impressions happen for a variety of reasons; perhaps you were late for an important meeting with a new contact and came across as unprepared. Or perhaps you unintentionally said something offensive or told a joke that was taken personally. Whatever the cause, apologize as soon as possible. You can do this in person immediately or send a short email afterward. Apologizing is direct and will be better than ignoring the mistake. But don’t overdo it; you may unintentionally make a sensitive situation awkward. Once you’ve sincerely apologized, move on.

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Don’t be too hard on yourself

As a result of your nerves perhaps you didn’t make as much eye contact as you could have. Or maybe you glanced at your cellphone expecting an important message to arrive. Whatever the case, don’t beat yourself up over it. While the perceived mistake might be magnified in your mind, it might have barely registered in the mind of the person or group you’re talking to. Take note of the situation and be mindful of it going forward; there’s no need to draw attention to your actions. If you’ve learned from it, move on and let it go. Following these tips will help you live a longer, more relaxed life.

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Be genuine

By being yourself you’re more likely to come across as natural and less awkward and forced. It’s OK to be honest and admit that you’re trying to make a good impression or that you’re a little nervous, but once that’s said make sure the next time you meet, you act as yourself. This reassures your new contact that you were indeed being honest and are who you say you are. If you have a great sense of humor, let it shine through. If you’re talkative, take a step back and listen attentively. (Related: These are subtle habits you have that make people trust you.)

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Own your mistake

We’re hardwired to think other people see us the way we see ourselves but that just isn’t the case. They’re likely thinking the same thing we are and are focused on trying to make a good impression as well. If you’ve made an honest mistake, say, for instance, you’re dressed casually for a business meeting, own it and feel confident in yourself. People will be less likely to pay attention to your mistake if you’re comfortable and act like yourself. (Related: These magic phrases can make anyone trust you.)

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Adjust your body language

Redirecting the situation may be as easy as changing your body language. Listen attentively and make eye contact, be more conscious of your body language, smile more, and avoid crossing your arms. Hold onto something (for example, a cup of coffee or notebook) if that helps. This will go a long way to showing people that while you may be shy, you’re attentive and present in the moment.

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Ask for feedback

If you have a trusted friend or colleague with you, ask them what they thought of the interaction. If they agree you made a bad impression, ask them to talk to the person on your behalf. Only do this if your friend or colleague knows your new contact well. The reason being, your friend or colleague’s opinion is trusted and the contact is more likely to believe them when they say this situation isn’t indicative of who you are. If successful, this approach could allow you to recover from your initial misstep.

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Don’t avoid your new contact

Rather than crawl under a rock and relive a mistake over and over again, be bold and get additional face time. Show that while you’re aware you made a poor first impression, you’re determined to make it right. Don’t be pushy but when you have an opportunity to spend time with this person, instead of turning around and walking away, seize the opportunity. It’ll take time to change the initial perception you’ve established, but consistency pays off.

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Be patient

You’ve heard the saying that “it takes time to build trust, but seconds to destroy it”? This can also apply to recovering from a bad first impression. If your contact is someone you want to build a lasting relationship with, either personally or professionally, be prepared to give it some time. Once you have an idea of how you want this person to perceive you (for example, you’re a compassionate person but came across as inconsiderate), ensure that subsequent meetings with this person show who you truly are. It’ll take months of consistency but trust will develop and leave them with a better impression of you.

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Find opportunities to work together

If you left a new co-worker with a bad impression of you, seek out ways to work together. If you’re both equally responsible for the outcome of a project, you’ll have to build trust in one another. Over time this will allow the other person to see you in a new light. If you follow-through on your responsibilities and remain genuine, the other person’s impression of you will adjust to see the real you. You’ll gradually earn his or her respect. Try these smart ways to get your boss to trust you.

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Ask yourself if it’s worth the energy

As a result of your nerves, perhaps you came across as self-centered because you talked about yourself for an hour. Rather than obsess about it, accept it and move on. We all want to make a good impression but if you don’t, instead of worrying about it, ask yourself, “is it worth it?” Decide if leaving this person with a bad first impression is really going to make a difference. If you genuinely tried your best but it didn’t go well, be secure in who you are and know that you can’t please everyone.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest