First Impressions: What You Don't Know About How Others See You

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What kind of first impression do you make? A first impression is the most important impression you’ll ever make—and you get only one chance to make it. Business deals can be made or broken, first dates become second dates or not, friendships are created or fail to form; everything hinges on that all-important initial encounter. And yet most of us don’t know how we’re really seen by others. Many of us don’t know how to make a good impression.

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What kind of first impression do you make? A first impression is the most important impression you’ll ever make—and you get only one chance to make it. Business deals can be made or broken, first dates become second dates or not, friendships are created or fail to form; everything hinges on that all-important initial encounter. And yet most of us don’t know how we’re really seen by others. Many of us don’t know how to make a good impression.

Wouldn’t you like others to see you as confident, interesting, attractive, and sincere? Ann Demarais, Ph.D., and Valerie White, Ph.D., consultants to many Fortune 100 companies as well as creators of First Impressions, Inc., a New York–based dating and consulting firm, offer you the keys to putting your best self forward in any new situation, whether you want to strike up a conversation at a party or are meeting a blind date or a new business client.

You’ll learn to see yourself as others see you, and how to tweak your style to create the impression that reflects the real you. Breaking down a successful first impression into its seven fundamentals, the authors show you how to master these principles so that you can make the best first impression. They also show how to avoid common misunderstandings that leave others with a bad impression, how to reveal the four universal social gifts, and they outline practical steps you can take to enhance your personal charm.

Informative and filled with enlightening research studies, do-it-yourself checklist reviews, and dozens of helpful case histories, First Impressions is a fun, groundbreaking, and long-overdue guide to the most important moment of virtually any relationship: the first.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The authors, both psychologists, run a New York-based business that coaches professionals on how they present themselves in business contexts and singles on how they appear during staged dates. In breezy helpful style, this book helps readers identify gaps between self-perception and actual effect. The secret to a good first impression, the authors argue, is "social generosity," carefully helping others feel good about themselves, whether through "appreciation," "connection," "elevation" (good spirits) or "enlightenment" (new information). Each chapter covers one of "Seven Fundamentals of a First Impression" (including the need for self-disclosure and for fluency in conversational dynamics); each ends with a checklist of "positive topic behaviors" and "common miscommunications" (e.g., if you focus on one topic, you may think you're passionate but you come off as self-absorbed). While some insights are basic (eye contact as an indication of interest), the authors thoroughly dissect interactions that are eminently flubbable. For example, the most common violation of "talking with" is "talking at," which can include lecturing, storytelling, sermonizing and telling jokes. The insights presented here are based not just on the authors' experience as consultants but also on the psychological literature: getting in sync with a partner, the research shows, requires coordinated smiling, gesturing and a mutual attentive gaze. The secret to sex appeal? Androgynous characteristics matched with confidence and warmth. This highly practical book ends with suggestions on how to tweak your style, including asking friends for feedback and consciously charting behaviors. To their credit, the authors remind newly enlightened readers of the importance of cutting others slack: somewhat annoying behavior may stem from good intentions. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A person gets only one chance to make a first impression-and it's often those first few minutes that make or break a potential relationship. Demarais and White, consultants to many Fortune 100 companies, have pooled their knowledge and experience to help people put their best foot forward. They do so by explaining the seven components of a first impression (e.g., accessibility, conversational dynamics, and self-disclosure) and guiding readers through self-assessment exercises. Insight on what behaviors form positive vs. negative impressions is also offered. Both informative and entertaining, this book asks provocative questions that will promote self-awareness and provides many examples of client behavior to reveal the signals that people send during ordinary conversation. It will be especially helpful to those who deal with other people, be they business clients, fellow partygoers, or potential dates. Students in communications or other social sciences might also find the book useful, as it incorporates current research.-Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-From friendships to business relationships, first impressions can have a huge personal, emotional, and financial impact on one's life. This book is a review of the scientific literature on how one is perceived by others during the first few minutes of social interaction. The authors summarize the current literature and place it into charts, allowing readers to easily determine the most appropriate strategy for making a good first impression. The material is interesting and flows well. The book is content rich with information that could be used daily by teens as they begin to establish mature personal and professional relationships.-John Kiefman, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553803204
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/2/2004
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Demarais, Ph.D., and Valerie White, Ph.D., are the founders of First Impressions, Inc., a unique consulting firm that helps clients understand how they are perceived on first dates and in social situations, as well as consultants to managers in Fortune 100 companies on communication and leadership skills. They and First Impressions, Inc., have been featured in newspapers and magazines around the world and over such radio and television broadcast outlets as NPR, BBC, Public Radio International, 20/20, CBS, and Lifetime, among others. Dr. Demarais lives in New York City, and Dr. White lives in New Jersey.
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Read an Excerpt

First Impressions

What You Don't Know About How Others See You
By Ann Demarais Valerie White


Copyright © 2004 Ann Demarais, Ph.D., and Valerie White, Ph.D.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-553-80320-4

Chapter One

How First Impressions Are Formed

You're in the waiting room at your dentist's office. A woman walks in and takes a seat next to you. She smiles and strikes up a conversation. She talks about the People magazine cover story, and comments on how quiet the waiting room tends to be-considering what's going on inside. She asks you about yourself and tells you a story about something that happened to her earlier in the day. You realize that you really enjoy this woman's company; she's fun and easy to talk to. You can imagine being friends with her. Ten minutes later you are called into the office, and you say good-bye.

Have you ever had a similar encounter? One where you met someone very briefly and were left with the feeling that you had a sense of that person? Just by the way she spoke and how she responded to you, you got a feeling about who she is. Maybe you imagined you knew her lifestyle or values, could predict what she is like in other situations, and had a good idea of whether you'd enjoy her company in the future. From a brief interaction you created a rich understanding of someone you just met.

How did this happen? How did you take a small amount of information and create a much larger picture? Knowing the psychology of first impressions-how it works and how you can use it-can give you a guide to deciding how you want to present yourself.

In a first impression, others see only a little sample of you, a tiny percentage of your life. But to them, that sample represents 100 percent of what they know of you. While you've had a lifetime of experiences with yourself-you know the full range of your emotions, behaviors, passions, and fears-strangers don't know anything about you at all. That tiny sample of you is all they have to work with, yet they will unconsciously assume that the sample is an accurate representation of all of you.

Think about the woman from the dentist's office that we just introduced. She was chatty, lively, and observant. At that moment. But because that's the only experience you have with her, you will assume that is how she'd be all the time. Why would you think any differently?

Psychological research has shown that people weigh initial information much more heavily than later information when they evaluate people. It's a simple fact: The first information people get about anything-a person, a place, an idea-influences the way they process later information. In other words, people are more likely to believe that the first things they learn are the truth.

For example, if you show a warm interest in people on a first meeting, as the woman in the waiting room did, they may form an impression of you as an engaging and connecting person, and not notice or not care later if you are distracted or self-absorbed. Negative initial information is weighted even more heavily. If you initially appear distracted and self-absorbed, others may ignore your later warmth and interest for a very long time. It can take many positive behaviors to overcome the impact of one initial negative behavior.


A first impression is like a filter. Here's how others form an image of you:

1. People take in initial information-they notice your body language, what you say, and how you respond.

2. Based on this initial information, they form an impression and make decisions about what you are like and how they expect you to behave in the future.

3. They then see you through this filter. Everyone likes to think they are a good judge of character, and think "I knew from the first moment I met him that he was ..." They seek information that is consistent with their first impression and will not look for, or even will ignore, behavior that doesn't fit their impression of you.


Personality or Situation?

While the filter allows people to make sense of information quickly, there are some common errors in the process. For example, people tend to see a new person's behavior as indicative of that person's character or personality in all situations, when it may not be. If you meet someone who seems angry, you may think he is an angry person in general. You may not stop to consider whether something has just happened to make him act that way. Maybe someone just cut him off on the road or he just got some bad news. This is a fundamental error that we all make; we tend to see others behavior as indicative of their personalities, or characters, in all situations, rather than the result of a temporary external situation. However, that's not how we tend to see our own behavior. When we are angry, we probably attribute it to the situation, not to our personality trait.

Halo and Horns

Another error people make is assuming that a person with one positive trait also has a cluster of other positive traits that he or she may not have. For example, you may assume that someone who appears upbeat is also smart, likable, and successful, even though you've never seen evidence of those qualities in her. This is called the "halo effect." People also tend to see negative traits in the same manner-the "horns effect." For example, we may assume that someone who complains a lot is also boring, unsociable, and weak.

If you understand these common errors of perception, you can better understand how others form an impression of you on a first meeting. And you can be in a better position to present an accurate image of yourself. If you know that others will assume that the tiny percentage of you that they first observe reflects 100 percent of your personality, then you can be careful about what information you present. Realizing that order matters, you may want to show your best qualities before your less charming ones. Knowing that people tend to assume you have a cluster of traits based on a single behavior, you may want to choose the cluster of traits you'll be placed in. In other words, if you know how you will be perceived and categorized, you can better control the impression you make and ensure that it represents your real self.

Chapter Two

How You Make Others Feel

Perhaps you can remember an interaction with someone who made you feel really good about yourself, when you felt respected, valued, and understood. Now try to remember a time when someone's words or actions made you feel bad about yourself-insulted, unappealing, or alienated.

Do you think about how others feel about themselves after they speak with you? You should. Because what you say and do impacts the way people feel about themselves. How people feel after interacting with you on a first encounter is especially important, because it will impact how they feel about you, at that moment and perhaps permanently. It's straightforward: If you make people feel understood and happy, they may project that good feeling onto you and feel positively about you. However, if you inadvertently insult them or make them feel ill at ease, they may project inaccurate negative traits onto you. At the very least, they will associate their good or bad feelings with you.

This chapter shows you how these emotions come to play in even very short interactions and explains the different ways you may focus your emotions. Chapter 3 describes more specifically what it means to make others feel good in a first meeting-that is, satisfying the core things people seek out from social interactions: appreciation, connection, mood elevation, and enlightenment. Part II elaborates how specific behaviors communicate these feelings and satisfy core desires in others.


David, a First Impressions client, is a Wall Street analyst. He was chatting with "Susan" at a café. In the course of their conversation, David told Susan about his interest in the history of New York City and a class he was taking on the subject. He told her about a paper he was writing on the political history of the city. Susan complimented him on his initiative and insights. She said she would be interested in reading his paper. He expounded on some of the key points in his essay. David liked Susan; Susan made him feel good about himself, respected for his ideas, and understood.

Because of her expressed interest and respect for him, David naturally assumed that Susan liked him. But what David didn't think about was how Susan was feeling or how she was feeling about herself. When the consultant asked him about this in the feedback session, David admitted he didn't really think about that directly during the simulated date. But, since he felt good, he assumed that she did too. The consultant pointed out that she, as "Susan," felt informed by David's ideas, but she also felt that David didn't care about her very much because he never showed any interest in her, never asked her about herself or her opinions, and made no effort to connect with her.

David's misunderstanding is a common one. We often assume that if we are having a good time that the person with us must be enjoying herself too. That's because, when you meet someone for the first time, you often focus on what you say and what you talk about. But how you come across to others is less about what you say or how you feel and more about how you make people feel about themselves in your presence. Every first interaction, even a casual conversation with a stranger on the street or at a party, can have an emotional impact on both individuals.

There is a simple way to look at the different emotions involved. An interaction can affect:

1. How you feel about yourself

2. How you feel about the other person

3. How the other person feels about you

4. How the other person feels about himself or herself


This is a common focus in new situations. You talk to someone at a party or a meeting, and you notice how you feel-whether you are comfortable, energized, bored, nervous, intimidated, and so on. It's normal, unavoidable, and, of course, interesting and important to us all. It guides how you interact with people, what situations you seek out, and whom you choose to associate with. In this example, David felt confident, understood, and informative, and wanted to continue talking to Susan.


Once you feel comfortable enough with a new situation and a new person, you commonly relax your self-focus and turn your emotional attention to how you feel about others. You evaluate others based on how they respond to you and what they say and do. You make quick decisions about their personality, how much you like them, and so on. As discussed in Chapter 1, this is a natural, and often unconscious, phenomenon. David quickly noticed that he liked Susan; he felt that she shared his ideas and attitudes.


Making a good impression means making someone feel positively about you-so how the other person feels about you should be an important focus. And it usually is when you are in situations in which you consciously want to impress someone or know you are being evaluated-such as in a first contact with a client or a first date. During the interaction, you may notice whether the other person smiles and pays attention to you, laughs at your jokes, and seems engaged. Or you may reflect later and try to evaluate the kind of impression you made. David didn't think about how Susan felt about him. He was caught up in thinking about how he felt.


You may not realize how powerfully you can affect how others feel and, especially, how they feel about themselves. Sure, you know that you can entertain or bore someone, but do you think about how you can make that person feel proud or insightful? It's important, because how people feel about themselves after interacting with you will impact how they feel about you. Focus 4 is the most neglected of the four emotional focuses. Do you typically think about your emotional impact on others? Do others leave the conversation feeling really good about themselves?

When you are with people you know well, you may readily perceive how they are feeling-and strive to make them feel good. For example, you may compliment a friend on his fine cooking because you know it's important to him and you want him to feel proud. However, in a first conversation, you may not think about how others feel about themselves. That may be because you don't know them and can't tap in to their emotional needs easily. And, in the discomfort of a first meeting, you may be distracted by your own feelings and needs. We've noticed that our clients are much more oriented to Focus 1, 2, and 3 than to Focus 4.

An orientation toward Focus 4-how others feel about themselves-is the secret to making a positive first impression. But it's not obvious because it's not an automatic emotional orientation. It doesn't just pop into your awareness the way feelings about yourself do. It requires conscious thought and shifting of attention. But if you can shift your focus from your own feelings to making others feel good, you'll be more likely to make a better first impression. For example, David neglected to think about how Susan was feeling and how she was feeling about herself. As a result, he didn't make the impression he thought he was making or get the reaction he expected. We've seen that a lot of misunderstandings stem from a neglect of Focus 4.


Where is my emotional focus when I meet someone for the first time? Do I think about how I feel? Or do I think about how others are feeling about themselves?

After You: Social Generosity

Focus 4 is a form of social generosity. It's what is commonly meant by being "nice." It's putting others' needs and feelings before your own. While relationships are about mutual need fulfillment, first impressions are about meeting others' needs. When you meet someone for the first time, it's a short but special moment. When you put your own needs aside for that moment and shift your focus to the other, you demonstrate that you can be generous and selfless. If you don't, it may suggest that you can't and that you may be an emotional burden, someone who is draining to be around. It's like telling strangers that you are interested only in yourself or that you have some unsatisfied needs that you're hoping they can fulfill.


Being socially generous has advantages in the world. People unconsciously evaluate you by the social benefits you provide and balance them against any social "costs" you incur. According to the theory of social exchange, people seek out others who provide them with the feelings and benefits they desire and people who provide them with the most benefits are the most desired. So, if you make others feel special and put them in a good mood, you will be more socially desirable than others who don't provide them with such positive feelings.


Excerpted from First Impressions by Ann Demarais Valerie White Copyright © 2004 by Ann Demarais, Ph.D., and Valerie White, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2004

    Not a good 'Lasting Impression'

    I have to say I was very disappointed in this book. The material seemed to repeat itself, and the layout was awkward. (The reader is interrupted in mid-paragraph by text boxes.) I also didn't find any value whatsoever in the quizes at the end of each chapter. Very elementary. I made myself finish it, but I honestly don't think I got anything from this read. I wish I'd borrowed it from the library, but my library didn't have it. Perhaps my library director knew something I didn't!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2004

    Everyone should read this book!!!

    This book is a terrific find. The authors present information and situations that will be helpful in making an outstanding first impression in both personal and professional venues. The book helps you take an honest look at youself and the way you are seen by the outside world. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2004

    An intelligent and useful read

    This book delivered just what I was looking for. I wanted a systematic way to understand what goes into peoples' initial judgments of others. I wanted it to be substantive and based on research but not too dry or boring of a read. I definitely found that here. Additionally, Demarais and White really bring the material to life - I could easily identify many of the examples they used with situations I encounter in my life. The research they cite is fascinating and makes me feel even more inclined to try out some of the things they advise. I think this is a very well-written and intelligent book on a topic that is ususally treated in an insultingly simple-minded manner. I very highly recommend this book!

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