Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma

Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma

by Patti Wood


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781577319399
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 10/09/2012
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 278,759
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Credited in the New York Times with bringing body language to the national consciousness, Patti Wood, MA, researches and consults on first impressions, body language, and nonverbal communication. She speaks to Fortune 500 companies, national associations, judges, and law-enforcement officials and appears regularly on television, including CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News and Fox Business Network, and PBS.

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Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language & Charisma

By Patti Wood

New World Library

Copyright © 2012 Patti Wood
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57731-940-5



Use Body Language to Accurately Read Others and Improve the Impression You Make

Dana, a story consultant in Hollywood, had an appointment to meet with George Clooney. She'd had to postpone their meeting twice. "Unbelievable, I know," she said, laughing. "Who delays meeting George Clooney? But I had just had a baby."

The rescheduled meeting day arrived and Dana, exhausted by a sleepless night, threw on the only clothes that fit: white T-shirt, jeans, and a jacket. She hugged her new baby good-bye and then dashed across LA. As she was about to step through the studio's doors, a woman said, "Excuse me but do you realize your jacket is covered in spit-up?"

Dana, a true professional with a great spirit, whipped off her jacket and strode through the door to meet George. "I was so tired, and my baby was my priority. I really didn't have it in me to be nervous or play a part. I was just me — which that day included eau de spit-up."

In a snap, George loved her. She got the job, and George enjoyed her so much that for the run of their project, they always ended their weekly meetings with a one-on-one basketball game behind his office. Years later, Clooney told Dana what a unique first impression she'd made. "You were so real," he said. "There was no Hollywood fawning, just two people connecting."

I tell this story because, as we talk about the value of snap impressions, I don't want your awareness of the nonverbal cues you give and receive to make you overly self-conscious. It's most important to be present in the moment, connected, and authentic. The knowledge you'll gain here will help you do this so that the real you shines at its best.

How often do we hear someone say, "When I first met him, I thought ...," "From the moment I met him, I knew ...," or "She did not fool me for a minute ...," or something similar? The first-impression process takes a few seconds or less. In fact, the most current research says that we can form an accurate first impression in 100 milliseconds — less than the time it takes to snap our fingers.

We can process thousands of cues — whether visual, auditory, or tactile — and other nonverbal factors very quickly, so a snap impression occurs well before we've talked at length or exchanged business cards or email addresses. We form snap impressions not just when we meet face-to-face but also when we see someone in a photo, glance at her Facebook profile, read a text she has sent you, or hear her voice on the phone. We do this by noticing things we don't even know we are noticing, and most research shows that only long experience with someone can alter our initial hit.

Research done by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov at Princeton University found that people make judgments about attractiveness, likability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness after looking at people's faces for just a tenth of a second. The researchers found that there was no significant change between snap decisions formed in one-tenth of a second and those formed during a longer exposure to a person's face. Given more time (up to a full second), people's fundamental judgment about the faces did not change. In fact, people became more confident in their judgment as the exposure time grew longer.

In a snap, everything you see, hear, and observe is quickly processed by your brain and mixed into the unique package known as a first impression. You look at someone for the first time and snap! Your brain takes a "photograph," taking in myriad cues all at once and forming a holistic image. These snap impressions use, in part, the emotional centers of the brain for this processing, and that helps to give them their powerful and lasting effect.

You may wonder, "How accurate can a snap be?" People are, on average, better than you might think at assessing certain aspects of personality and ability. A meta-analysis of forty-four studies measuring the accuracy of people's first impressions showed their impressions to be highly accurate.

What You Say Is Not That Important

David and his roommate, Mark, were waiting at the bar for Mark's girlfriend. Looking up from his drink, David saw Mark's girlfriend come in with another woman — a black-haired beauty worthy of a Sports Illustrated cover shoot. Stunned by this woman's looks, David fretted over what he would say to make a good impression. He needn't have worried; nonverbal cues matter more than words in a snap. The warm looks David and the black-haired beauty exchanged in that moment led to a marriage that has lasted thirty years (so far)!

When it comes to first impressions, nonverbal cues pack more than four times the punch of verbal ones. When we are face-to-face with someone, we can see his expressions, the look in his eyes, where his head is placed, the way he is sitting, his physical distance from objects and other people, and the signals in his gestures, as well as perceive the warmth or coolness in his voice. Facial cues rank first among all forms of communication in their influence on initial impressions.

In a person's eyes we see interest, arousal, and power or submissiveness. In her gestures and posture we can understand her attitudes, level of confidence and optimism, and what type of relationship she might want. The amount of space she uses and keeps between herself and others helps us assess how much privacy she wants and how close emotionally she wants to be. We listen to a person's words to ascertain mood, personality, and honesty; we watch her hands and her touch movements to see how supportive and warm she is.

Nonverbal snap cues are so accurate — 76 percent accurate, or higher — for two reasons. First, there is a genetic link between appearance and personality. We may have evolved to show our personalities on our faces and bodies because being readable makes it easier for people to socialize and interact, which is essential for survival. Just as the venomous Gila monster developed bright coloring over time that acts as a signal — the coloring tells potential predators that the lizard is dangerous — we have evolved to possess readability to make us appear less dangerous.

Second, our facial and bodily expressions reflect our emotions and, consequently, our personalities, and over time they become lasting facial features and body postures. We form snap impressions using body language and other nonverbal cues subconsciously and automatically, so they are not subject to unreliable conscious prejudices.

Processing nonverbal communication is not an exercise in linear thinking. Most of the time, we, like David after he met the dark- haired beauty, cannot trace the steps we use to process the myriad cues available to us. Rather, the cues explode around us like fireworks, or they are like floats and balloons at a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade swirling before our eyes, or for many of us they just seem to come as feelings in the gut. For this reason, we may wonder if the conclusion we've come to is accurate. We may discount it, saying, "Oh, it's only a hunch." In reality, our hunches can be amazingly accurate.

Phillip Goldberg, in his book The Intuitive Edge, says that intuition "is the product of the mind's capacity to do many things at once without our being aware of them." In a snap, we can, in less than forty seconds of communication, process up to ten thousand units of nonverbal information. That's ten thousand cues communicated between two people in less than a minute. We process that information into something valuable: an intuitive perception of the other person. The sheer volume of cues available to us helps make our first impressions reliable.

Think about it. If we totally disregarded the nonverbal cues, we would have only a few words, or perhaps sentences, in those first moments on which to base our impression. I don't know about you, but the words "Hello, my name is Joe" don't tell me a lot. Then consider how quickly and accurately we use nonverbal cues. In 1992, the researchers Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal found that looking at short examples of behavior (examples lasting under thirty seconds) can lead to predictions as accurate as those based on observing behavior for up to five minutes. Snap impressions are remarkably telling.

Forming a gut-level first impression is the first step in communicating. That impression dictates the reaction we expect to get, how we will relate to the other person, and all the other factors that affect how we form a relationship.

Right about now you may be saying, "I never make assumptions based on first impressions. I'm more sophisticated or more fair than that. I know better than to judge on mere appearances." Let me clarify. I'm not talking about reducing people to stereotypes based on prejudice or bigotry. I'm talking about the accuracy of your first gut-level reactions. There is a big difference. Gut-level impressions based on nonverbal cues are instinctual; prejudice and bigotry stem from learned cultural and social factors. They are part of our second-stage impressions. True gut-level first impressions are not subject to inaccuracy like stereotypes.

Stereotypes, in fact, undermine accuracy. For instance, one dramatic aspect of this process is the way we create self-fulfilling prophecies. We assign someone specific personality traits in the first few minutes, and then, as we interact, we collect information that makes our predictions about that person seem true, ignoring information that might contradict our stereotypical impression.

For example, a business owner interviewing contractors for a big job might see a candidate with a sweaty forehead and no smile, dressed in a gray T-shirt, coming toward him and think, "I don't want to hire this unprofessional guy to do this work." The business owner might not notice, however, that the contractor carries a clipboard, leans forward and nods as he listens, takes copious notes about what the business owner wants, and spends a longer time in the meeting than other potential contractors who bid for the job. All these latter cues are signs that the contractor is, in fact, being professional.

In the coming pages, we'll look more at factors that undermine our accuracy.

Survival Instincts

Cavemen and cavewomen knew all about first impressions. Out hunting for food, they were vulnerable to attack by strangers. If one of our caveman ancestors suddenly spied a stranger from an unfamiliar tribe, he had to make a very quick assessment — "Does he look like he will kill me?" Yes, we can trace the ability to form accurate first impressions to our primeval origins, when we needed to protect ourselves from potentially dangerous strangers. Forming quick first impressions is one of our basic survival instincts. When our ancestor saw that stranger from an unfamiliar tribe, he had to decide quickly how to approach him or whether to approach him at all, on the strength of a first impression. In a case like this, if someone's impression was not accurate, he — and his genes — would not survive. We are genetically predisposed to form quick, accurate first impressions.

In modern day-to-day situations, first impressions play a critical but poorly understood role. We still need to protect ourselves, and we still fear the unknown. When we meet someone, we need to know both whether it is safe to approach and how to approach and interact. We don't know his temperament or opinions. In a sense, we don't know if he "bites." So we assess him quickly. We may start by putting him in a category — safe or unsafe — and acting accordingly. This is vitally important for our comfort in a peopled world. If we could not do this, it would be too scary to leave the house, our cozy cave, at all.

If someone comes into work harrumphing and rolling her eyes, stands in front of you with her arms crossed and mouth twisted, and growls, "Good morning," you immediately form a first impression. For one thing, you know it's not going to be a good morning as long as you have to deal with this unhappy person. If people at a social event are standing in a circle talking to one another, and one of them smiles as you approach and steps aside to let you in, she is indicating that you are welcome and accepted. No words are exchanged, but you understand immediately. We may take for granted our understanding of these kinds of interactions, but if our gut-level impressions are to be useful, we have to pay attention to them.

Many years ago, I walked into a drugstore near my house and saw a tall man with a mustache wearing a well-tailored, three-piece suit and holding a thin, unlit cigar as he stood nonchalantly near the magazine racks by the entrance to the store. I froze in place, and every fiber of my being screamed out, "Danger, danger! Leave the store now!" There was something about him I didn't trust. But I ignored that first impression. "This is a well-dressed man," I thought. "You're being ridiculous." So I walked past him into the store and did my shopping. When I went up to the front counter with my items, the well-dressed man was in front of me checking out. I looked at him and my whole body seized up and sent the message "Danger! Leave now." Again I ignored it, but I thought of something I had forgotten to pick up, and left the counter to go to the rear of the store. When I returned, the man was gone and the cashier stood pale and frozen behind the counter. I reached out and touched her arm, and said, "Honey, what's wrong?" She answered, "That man just robbed me at gunpoint."

Research proves that, while we need to create categories to understand our world, we must be careful of stereotypes, such as "well-dressed men can be trusted." As I mentioned earlier, stereotypes are maladaptive forms of categories. They do not correspond to what is actually present in the environment. In my case, the fact that he was well dressed had no bearing on whether or not he was a gun-wielding robber.

The moral of the story? Go with your gut. Even though I am an expert in body language, I ignored my first gut-level intuition of danger because it seemed illogical. However, my subconscious mind was busy picking up on little nonverbal details that told me the guy in the suit was not harmless. My limbic brain was processing cues, including the fact that a man in a suit, in the middle of a workday, was lingering by a magazine rack but not actually looking at the periodicals. "This is weird!" said my brain, leading to my "Danger!" stress response. Later, at the checkout counter, though my conscious mind wanted me to ignore it, my limbic brain got me to leave that part of the store. I've had many instances of reading people with eerie accuracy at a first meeting; perhaps you have, as well. This story is a reminder to pay attention to the powerful intelligence processed with amazing speed in your deep limbic system.

In the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the character Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist, goes to a suspected serial killer's house while his suspect is gone and finds evidence that the person is indeed a killer. When Blomkvist hears that person return to the house, he starts to run away. The killer politely asks him to come back into the house for a drink, and as the killer keeps making that request, we see Blomkvist standing with his feet and lower torso turned away from the killer, signaling his desire to keep on running. Blomkvist, ignoring what his body so clearly wants to do, turns around and goes toward the killer, even as we in the audience yell out, "No, don't do it!" When Blomkvist reenters the house, the killer greets him, revealing a gun and saying, "Our desire to be polite overrides our bodies' desire to flee danger."

In snap impressions, pay attention to your body. It can read clues about danger and then alert your conscious mind. Your body also signals other types of first impressions. In the next few days, as you meet new people, check in with yourself from your toes to the top of your head and see how you feel in the presence of each new person. Notice whether your body feels ill at ease or stressed in any way.

(Go to for "Body Check In" — my instructions and a video on how to pay closer attention to your body's signals when you meet other people.)


Excerpted from Snap by Patti Wood. Copyright © 2012 Patti Wood. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Getting and Giving Snap Impressions: Use Body Language to Accurately Read Others and Improve the Impression You Make 7

Chapter 2 What Happens in a Snap: Understand the Four First-Impression Factors: Credibility, Likability, Attractiveness, and Power 25

Chapter 3 Meet and Greet: Get Off to a Great Start with Handshakes and Other Greetings 59

Chapter 4 The Face of First Impressions: Reading and Improving Aspects of Facial Expressions beyond Just Making Eye Contact and Smiling 93

Chapter 5 Connections in a Snap: How to Match, Mirror, Listen, and Use Body Windows 119

Chapter 6 Your Techno Impression: Impress Others by Phone, Email, Facebook, Twitter, Other Social Media, and Gadgets 157

Chapter 7 How You Look to Others in a Snap: See What Others See in You and Get a First-Impression Makeover 179

Chapter 8 Work World Snaps: Shine in Interviews, Sales Calls, Meetings, Presentations, and Negotiations 207

Chapter 9 Your Social Snap: Be Confident and Attract What You Want While Dating, Socializing, and Networking 225

Chapter 10 Snap Success Every Day: Put Snap Know-How to Work Each Day in Every Situation 239

Acknowledgments 247

Notes 249

Index 257

About the Author 267

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Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
CorporateClass More than 1 year ago
I have read several books on Body Language - First Impressions and I must say this is one I enjoyed reading mainly for its practicality and common sense. There are a number of good exercises listed and several other documents Patti refers to you can find on her website.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I"m only 25 pages into SNAP by Patti Wood and I wish I had the time to read it all in one setting. I can't wait to get to the head nod and the torso leans. I'm a go with your Gut Girl and this book tells me why I am. Also, my goal is to be a Halo Girl from now on- even if I"m having a bad day I'm not gonna let anyone know it- I'm not the Devil. I've bought and shared this book with some of my young friends- just starting out in the business world- I hope they will thank me one day- and I hope they become a" Raging Fan" of Patti Wood. Thanks Patti- I can't wait to finish the book- Cheryl Slusser
Anonymous More than 1 year ago