Making a great first impression could be the difference between getting a job offer and turning someone off completely.

Every time you meet someone, they’re judging you. Whether they consciously realize it or not, they make conclusions about your likeability, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness – all in the blink of an eye.

No, it’s not fair, and yes, you do this too.

The first 15 seconds of any new connection or experience are what shape that experience. In that first 15 seconds, we decide

  • Do I like this person?
  • Is this person credible?
  • Do I want to continue connecting with this person?

Our brains make rapid assumptions about the personal traits of others. This, process known as thin-slicing, refers to our ability to very quickly gauge and form opinions on what’s important based on patterns or “thin slices” of information and/or experience. This tendency to “think without thinking”, or to make snap decisions about situations and people, has significant implications for how we network and interview, how we interact with people who are different than we are, and how we build relationships personally and professionally.

Emotionally intelligent people are attuned to the people around them. They consider their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, as they make decisions and navigate through the world.

To give yourself the best possible advantage when you meet someone new, carefully consider these 15 ways you can show emotional intelligence in the first 15 seconds of your next interaction.

  1. Smile and mean it. Emotionally intelligent people are genuine, cheerful, and approachable. They don’t give fake forced smiles (which are easily spotted). Their smiles show that they are happy to be meeting a new person.
  2. Show engagement. Emotionally intelligent people show they’re engaged through non-verbal cues: eye contact, good posture, smiling and nodding, and responding to what the other person is saying rather than promoting their own agenda.
  3. Be aware of boundaries. Emotionally intelligent people are sensitive to other people’s personal space – both literally and figuratively.
  4. Be confident but not arrogant. This is often conveyed in handshakes. Weak handshakes signal weak-minded personalities, while overly firm signals aggression. Emotionally intelligent people strive for balance.
  5. Watch your body language. Imagine seeing someone with their arms and legs crossed, glued to their smartphone, sitting in a corner. Would you approach them? Would you think they’re likeable? Emotionally intelligent people make themselves open and available – even when they think no one is looking!
  6. Let the other person go first. Emotionally intelligent people listen without interrupting and focus on what the other person is saying.
  7. Take care of your appearance. Emotionally intelligent people are well-groomed and dress appropriately for the occasion – whether that’s an interview at a start-up or a high-profile networking meeting with executives.
  8. Speak up, but control your volume. When you start or join a conversation, avoid mumbling, using filler words (“you know?” “um…” “like…”), or using slang. No matter how hip or cool you might think that you sound, it won’t create the right impression. Emotionally intelligent people know that people listen to them more when they speak in a clear, confident manner, don’t speak too quickly, and take the time to think before responding.
  9. Practice reflective listening. Emotionally intelligent people use reflective listening techniques, where they first seek to understand the other person’s idea, and then relay the idea back to the speaker in order to confirm that they understood correctly.
  10. Establish common ground. According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence at Work, one of the most important things to do when meeting a new person is to quickly establish something in common with them. Emotionally intelligent people know that even a small relatable element can enhance likeability and form a bond.
  11. Compliment them. Emotionally intelligent people know that a sincere compliment can make someone’s day. In fact, this is one of the quickest, easiest ways to establish rapport!
  12. Say their name. Emotionally intelligent people show that they’re paying attention by saying the other person’s name. This also makes the other person feel special and can be a helpful trick to remembering names if you tend to forget them.
  13. Observe and adapt to others. By tactfully “mirroring” eye contact, body language, and tone of voice, you immediately become more approachable and help the other person feel more comfortable. Emotionally intelligent people often adapt their communication style to others subconsciously.
  14. Be positive. Emotionally intelligent people don’t convey their anger and frustration when meeting new people. They know that no one wants to be around pessimistic people.
  15. It’s not just about you. One thing many otherwise successful people fail to do is to empathize with others. Emotionally intelligent people are able to gauge how others are feeling, step into their perspective, and relate to them accordingly.

Bringing it all together. Many of us find it difficult to connect – both with ourselves, and with others. A critical factor in our ability to connect successfully is to demonstrate likeability – and that means enhancing Emotional Intelligence.
For more on this subject, check out my other articles on Emotional Intelligence.