To some extent, it’s reasonable to worry about making a first impression. And anxiety makes meeting new people even harder. It makes you think of all the ways someone might judge you, all the things you shouldn’t say, all the things you could’ve said better.
While good first impressions are not necessary, they are helpful footholds in building positive relationships – and anxiety can easily screw them up. The following tips will help you overcome social anxiety, for minimal hiccups in meeting someone new.
Snap judgments are an integral part of being human. We all like to categorize things and put them in boxes so that we can understand them better. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen misunderstanding come from these superficial assessments, which makes it scary to put yourself out there – especially when anxiety tells you to prepare for the worst case scenario.
That said, in a first impression situation, don’t try to change who you are. Ultimately, someone you want to build any sort of relationship with is someone who likes who you are – not who you pretended to be in the first five minutes of meeting. So, the key is not to change for a new person, but to have a good idea of who you are, so you can show them the best of yourself on the first shot.
For better or worse, a new friend or coworker does encounter your appearance before anything else. Depending on the setting, think a little about what to wear for your first impression. It is important to be aware of your appearance, not for others’ sake, but so that you feel completely ‘yourself.’
While following your own style, you want to be as comfortable as possible, too – think of both environmental factors like temperature or rain, as well as context-specific details like what you’ll be doing or how you’ll need to move your body.
If your anxiety makes you sweat a lot, wear all black so you don’t even have to think about sweat stains.
Or maybe you’re going to a job fair – find clothes that are soft, loose enough so you can move without being self-conscious, and in your favorite business-casual patterns. By helping yourself feel and look good, you’ll go into an anxiety-producing situation with the most confidence possible.
Giving your full attention can make or break your chances when meeting someone new. But this pressure can throw anxiety into overdrive and create a self-defeating cycle.
Give yourself the best shot at providing undivided attention: reduce distractions or sources of rumination however you can. This might include ensuring that your cell phone does not ring in the middle of your conversation, or even putting it on Do Not Disturb so the vibration doesn’t give you FOMO.
It also means engaging with what the other person says – asking questions, keeping details in mind that might become relevant in future interactions. Focus on what they share with you, instead of obsessing over what they think of your reaction. Your instincts, here, will be way better than whatever comes from overthinking.
Once someone knows they can count on your genuine investment in a conversation, you have an instant connection – get in the zone and make this first meeting count!
“You are awesome, and you need to believe that so the other person can see it too.”
Often in these anxious first meetings, we become self-conscious of our hand motions and body language, or shrink down in that familiar anxiety posture. While maintaining open posture, it’s also important to incorporate gestures that show that you are engaged in the conversation.
Nodding (instead of interrupting) while they are talking will generate a friendly signal and will show them that you are actively listening.
Eye contact is crucial, but can get creepy, uninterrupted. When you periodically look away, look down instead of to the sides. This helps, because sideways glances tend to convey waning interest in a conversation.
In addition, use your body for your own benefit, too! Stop, close your eyes, and focus on your breaths – even just a couple in and out. Bend your knees a couple times. This quick check-in will help you be less rigid, and keep anxiety from escalating right before your meeting.
Lastly, try to avoid crossing your arms and legs, often interpreted as a defensive stance.
Be aware of the components of a good first impression, but remember that they almost all go back to just being yourself. We’re all anxious over something, and the trick is to do all you can, outside of your most anxiety-provoking situations, to give yourself the best shot at success in the moment.
Identifying and meeting your own needs, keeping some goals in mind, and using your body are the most important things to remember.
You are awesome despite anxiety, but you can’t expect others to know that, unless you show them — when you believe in your strengths and own your faults, you help others see the best in you, too!
If you need a way to practice being yourself in a safe, nonjudgemental space, an anonymous, online peer chat group could be a great place to start.