How to Recover from Making a Bad First Impression

Not too long ago, Simran Singh* quit the cushiony job that was right up her alley and joined a digital marketing firm. She felt like a headless chicken but was also excited and anxious. She joined her first Zoom meeting with a 1000 watt smile and sweaty palms. That’s when everything went south. For some reason, Shah says, the vibe was just off. When her new boss asked her a simple question, she froze for what seemed like hours before mumbling some incoherent answer that did nothing to showcase her skill set. This was the first time she was interacting with her boss, and she had made a bad first impression.

It was clear by the way he pursed his lips, scrunched his face and abruptly ended their meeting that she had totally bombed the interaction. Singh didn’t have the luxury of laughing it off or apologising or even relying on past performances to save her.

Studies show that first impressions are so powerful, they might be considered more important than facts. But while technically true, the phrase ‘You won’t get a second chance to make a first impression’ doesn’t account for the fact that, with time and consistency, you can redeem yourself.

Leisanne Pinto, recruiter and HR professional, explains, “At the office, it’s important to give people space and the opportunity to let their work speak for them. I’ve seen many impressions change over time and the most important part is to not change your own behaviour based on a preliminary impression (that can often be biased).”

Even if you bomb the very first meeting, you still have a chance to make up for it in the initial weeks.

Mansi Shah, a former managing editor of a media company, says, “Before your work can speak for itself, there are other indicators — punctuality, turning up at work, being supportive — that you really want the job. If the slacking starts early, that’s a bad first impression, and a red flag.”

Making a bad first impression can be mortifying. You walk away from an interaction feeling embarrassed, disappointed in yourself, and convinced the other person now thinks poorly of you.

While it’s easy to beat yourself up after a bad first meeting don’t lose hope. With some effort you can overcome a negative first impression.

Understanding Bad First Impressions Are Common

An important first step is realizing you’re not alone. We’ve all been there – saying something awkward or embarrassing ourselves in front of new people. Negative first impressions are very common.

Though it feels devastating in the moment, the truth is the other person likely doesn’t judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. They’ve also had their share of clumsy interactions.

Rather than obsessing over what went wrong, work on moving forward You’ll drive yourself crazy replaying the scenario over and over Instead, focus your energy on the next steps you can take.

Assessing the Situation Objectively

Before beating yourself up, try to assess what happened objectively. Ask yourself:

  • Was the bad impression entirely your fault, or did external factors like stress or fatigue play a role?

  • How bad was the impression, really? Or are you magnifying it in your head?

  • Is there anything you can learn from this experience?

Looking at the interaction calmly and rationally can provide perspective. You may realize it wasn’t as catastrophic as it first seemed.

Even if it was pretty bad, look for insights you can gain. Reflect on what didn’t go well and how you’d approach it differently next time. Experiencing failure can teach important lessons.

Seek Out More Interactions

Don’t let a bad first meeting deter you from engaging with that person again. With more interactions, you’ll have opportunities to show your true colors.

Schedule a follow-up meeting or say hello if you run into them again. This shows you’re open to connecting.

Use these interactions to reset the relationship. Come prepared with topics to discuss. Show genuine interest by asking questions and listening attentively. Bring positive energy and leave negativity from the past behind.

With more face time, the other person will get to know you beyond that initial awkwardness. Multiple good impressions can override one bad one.

Directly Address What Happened

If your embarrassment over the bad impression is hanging like a dark cloud, consider addressing it directly.

How you go about this depends on the situation. If it was a minor faux pas, a simple apology may suffice:

“I wanted to apologize for rambling during our meeting last week. I was nervous to meet you and got carried away. I’m sorry if I talked your ear off – I’ll be sure to give you more of a chance to speak next time!”

If it was a more serious blunder, take full accountability. Thank them for their patience and understanding. Assure it won’t happen again.

This shows humility, maturity and professionalism. It resets the relationship moving forward.

Ask for Feedback

Opening up a dialogue can help reveal the other person’s true perception of the situation.

Rather than make assumptions, ask for honest feedback:

“I want to sincerely apologize again for missing our meeting last week. I’m eager to do better going forward. Do you have any feedback on how I can recover or improve from this?”

You may find out the incident wasn’t actually as big of a deal as you thought. Or they may provide constructive criticism on how to have better future interactions.

Either way, you’ll gain useful insights into how they view you and the relationship.

Tips for Recovering from a Bad First Impression

Bouncing back from a negative first encounter takes effort but is very possible. Here are some top tips:

  • Have self-compassion. Don’t beat yourself up endlessly. Everyone makes mistakes. Focus on learning.

  • Reflect on what you can improve. Assess what went wrong objectively and identify areas for growth.

  • Lean into opportunities for redemption. Don’t hide – further positive interactions can overcome initial awkwardness.

  • Use humor judiciously. Laughing at yourself can diffuse tension – but make sure it doesn’t come across as not caring.

  • If needed, apologize sincerely. Take ownership of your mistake with humility and maturity. Assure it won’t happen again.

  • Ask for feedback. This provides insights into how the other person perceives you and the relationship.

  • Explain extenuating circumstances, but don’t make excuses. If outside factors like stress contributed, they may be understanding.

  • Match your response to the situation. A minor embarrassment may just need a quick apology. Bigger issues warrant taking more responsibility.

  • Change behaviors moving forward. Back up your words with actions. Consistently put your best foot forward in future interactions.

With time and effort, you can overcome negative first impressions. Don’t lose hope – focus on controlling the narrative moving forward.

how to fix bad first impression

How to Overcome a Bad First Impression

How do you recover from a bad first impression?

If a straight apology doesn’t seem to suit the situation, you can always try pivoting instead. “One of the best approaches for recovering from a bad first impression is to pivot by showing off a different and more favorable side of your personality. In other words, if you tried to crack a joke and it fell flat, then demonstrate sincerity.

What if I made a bad first impression?

If you made a bad first impression and want to make things right, there are two routes you can take. The first is to present the perceiver with abundant, attention-getting evidence that they have the wrong idea about you, over a long period of time.

How do you recover from a less-than-perfect first impression?

An important part of the process of recovering from a less-than-perfect first impression is to make sure that the second time (and every time going forward) consistently highlights the qualities you’d like to be known for and eliminates the qualities you want to steer clear of.

How do you respond to a bad first impression?

Another way of responding to a bad first impression is by demonstrating sincerity and consistency over time following that first poor showing. This approach is harder and obviously is more of a long game, but ultimately can cement stronger relationships.

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