That unexpected lesson on first impressions….

This past Monday I was invited to attend a class hosted by my employer. This is the Monday after Thanksgiving break so you can imagine how that went over for the group. Not only did I have a 6 am call with Milan, an epic list of critical to do items, I now had the joy of sitting through an 8 hour class on client relationship building.

I am going to pause here and back track….I had been asking for years to attend this type of training. Client relationships, sales and business development have always been an interest to me. Anything that helps me make connections and build relationships is a good thing. So being invited to attend this class was a boon.

Ok now back to the story. There I was in our new offices that I have never set foot in wandering around trying to find the boardroom when this very nicely dressed gentleman smiles and asked where the board room is. My response while not surly was not my usual cheerful response. I shrugged and mumbled something to the effect that ‘it’s over there’. This could have been an opportunity to laugh and say I was just as lost as him or joke that his guess is as good as mine.

Fast forward to the intro of the class and the nicely dressed gentleman is the presenter for this training. As if that mortification isn’t enough he proceeds to ask me (out of 15 people) all about my job, my hobbies, my life, etc. I calmly answered these questions, while trying to understand why he is directing this at me. Uncomfortable to say the least. Here’s the thing…this presenter is a college professor, long time employee of my company, published author and pretty much the key client relationship guy in our organization, his choosing to pick on me wasn’t malicious. His reason for choosing me to question is simple, in his experience if you can win over the person in the room who is the least engaged, least wanting to be here you can win over everyone else. Smart. But here’s the thing, I was engaged. I was just having a crap morning.

Now for the big lesson of the day….my dad often said “you only have one chance at a first impression.” While not his words, a very important quote nonetheless. I blew it. His first impression of me was not the real, everyday me. I generally walk around the office smiling and greeting people. Bad day, smile. Client grumpy, smile. A smile isn’t insipid. A real smile can change other people’s mood. But instead I blew my first impression by being wrapped in my thoughts. This is a man who is in a position with in my company that I aspire to, who could be a career advancing contact and I missed the mark on meeting him.

Silver lining…after the class it was clear that while I didn’t make a great first impression, I did bring him around. But we don’t always get that opportunity. Everyone has bad days. That is just life. Don’t let that stop you from making a good first impression. There is the very classic Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver RomCom from the 80’s wherein Sigourney says “today’s junior pig is tomorrow junior partner”. This always stuck with me. In my industry the world is very small. People I started out with have left to competitors and satellite branches of my industry. Keeping a good impression, maintaining relationship is a buffer for bad times. If you have a good reputation in your industry, when bad times hit you can reach out and who knows, maybe find a new job. The bottom line is this, whether you want to maintain or build relationships, it all begins with that first initial impression.


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