“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”  -Will Rogers

I love meeting new people.  Whether they’re a potential friend or client or someone I may never see again, I’m fascinated by the world of possibilities that opens up every time a new person comes into my life.

Whether you share my passion for meeting new people or not, I hope you share my passion for wanting to make a good first impression . . . and for affinity building.

One thing I love about the concept of affinity building is that ALL of us have the ability to do it.  Yes, it’s fairly basic, but, no, not everyone is good at it.  And, even those who have the skill sets aren’t always deliberate about using them.  Even at the very elementary level of “meeting new people,” we often breeze into the opening moment without making the most of the opportunity.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School specializes in studying first impressions (cool job, ha?).  In her TED Talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html), she explains how powerful our non-verbal communication is.  Our body language has a significant impact on our ability to have successful relationships.

Since looking at relationships and first impressions through my “affinity-building” lenses for the past several years, I’ve concluded that, in addition to the extreme power of our non-verbal communication, there are three basic, but crucial, “first steps” to a successful relationship when meeting someone new (whether a prospective client or a stranger at a cocktail party):

  1.  CARE about people. “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” you’re probably saying.   The term “care” is trite,  but unless you truly care about the people you meet, you won’t be successful at building strong relationships.

  2. USE FIRST AND LAST NAMES. When you introduce yourself to others, always make strong eye contact, along with a firm handshake, and give your first and last name. If the person you’re meeting gives you only his/her first name, be sure to ask what the last name is. It seems counter-intuitive, but when you disclose only your first name and accept only his/her first name, you’re de-personalizing yourselves at the initial meeting. I’m Betsy Rozelle . . . not Betsy Smith, not Betsy Ross. Bonus:  in almost every case, the last names you share with each other will spark some recognition or affinity (e.g. “oh, are you related to Pete Rozelle? . . .  or, “I went to high-school with a Rozelle”). Seize upon the opportunity to find commonalities right from the start. Ask a specific question about his/her name.

  3. SEEK AND TELL STORIES. Another way to show you care  when meeting someone for the first time is to start a conversation about his/her background, interests, and experiences. Capitalize on where interests/experiences intersect (“Wasn’t Tuscany amazing? I was there 5 years ago, and it was my best trip ever.”).   Or, if you don’t see many similarities between your experiences, build affinity by showing an interest in some of the experiences that s/he shared (“I’ve never had a motorcycle, but I admire my neighbor’s Harley from a distance. Have you ever been to a Harley rally? I heard those are some major fun.”) 

 You and the people you meet will walk away from your first exposure feeling that you have made an important personal connection and that you are “in this thing together.”  The relationship building takes root from there.  

Building Affinity,