The Two Seconds that Matter Most

Last week found me touring around wine country.

It was supposed to be a week off of all things work – where we wound our through vineyards and took itsy bitsy tastes of wine before saying obnoxious things like “hmmm…not quite as complex as I might have expected from a Syrah.”

But I couldn’t help myself. Because after just one day of roaming it was clear that a perfect, blog-able lesson was looming large.

It was all about those first impressions. It was all about those first two seconds.

I know what you might be thinking…you’ve got this one. Stay with me.

I begin with the brief story of Winery A and Winery B.

The sun was shining brightly as I walked into Winery A. My eyes quickly adjusted to the dark, wooden interior and I saw before me a friendly woman wiping down the bar.  Her name was Sandy. She looked up and smiled warmly. “Welcome!” she said as she laid the tasting menu before me.

I smiled back. Because I knew immediately that this was going to be a great experience. And the wine was going to be delicious.

And it was. And it was.

Next up: Winery B. As my eyes quickly adjusted to the dark, wooden interior I saw before me a man wiping down the bar. His name…well, I never learned it. He didn’t look up. He didn’t smile. Instead, he waited for me to walk all the way through the room before saying with a sigh “you here for some wine?”

And I didn’t smile either. Because I knew immediately this wasn’t going to be a great experience. And the wine wasn’t going to be delicious.

And it wasn’t. And it wasn’t.

I’d made my decisions about each of these experiences in the first two seconds.

We all know about those first two seconds. We all know they matter.

For those who think they don’t matter much, I ask you the following:

  • When you meet people for the first time, how long does it take for you to decide what kind of person they are? How happy they are? How successful they are?
  • When you’re sitting in a presentation, how many words does the speaker make before you decide whether this is going to be worth your time or a snooze fest?
  • When you open up an email, how much do you get through before you decide to read every word, skim it or save it for later?

And here’s the million dollar question.

Once you make that very first decision, how likely are you to change it later?

That’s the main point here.

There’s no delete button for first impressions. Including the bad ones.

We’ve all heard about those first few seconds and what happens in our brain (heck, I recently read that it’s actually the first tenth of a second).

Those two seconds are all we need to determine a whole lot about the people we’re about to speak with, the reading material we’re about to peruse, the clothing in the store we’re about to walk through.

That’s why every single motion, word and gesture we make in those first few seconds matters.

But what makes it really matter is this.

Whatever happens in those first two seconds sticks.

Once a person has decided something about us – about our personality, our abilities, our likeability – it’s hard to shake it.

The wine at Winery A could have been terrible, but I would’ve given it a chance anyway, swirled it around, taken an extra sip. I wanted to like it because I liked Sandy in those first two seconds.

The wine at Winery B could’ve been spectacular. But the bitterness in the room had already colored it. I didn’t want to like it because I didn’t like what’s-his-name in those first two seconds.

Those first two seconds matter more than any other second we spend trying to woo, inspire and otherwise make people like us.

Like it or not…no matter what our mood…it is what we do and say (and what we fail to do and say) in those first two seconds that stick.

Yes, we might be able to un-stick it over time. But it can take a lot of time. And sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t undo it at all.

Because there’s no delete button for first impressions.

So what do you do if…

  • …you’re about to meet new people for the first time and you’re not in a great mood? Smile anyway. Focus on them. Be real, but be pleasant.  You can do it.
  • …you want people to read your email but you’re too busy to read it over before sending it? Do it anyway. Take a few seconds. Start with a pleasantry and keep the whole thing brief. You can do it.
  • …you’re about to lead a meeting at 8am and you’re cranky because you were just stuck in traffic for 45 minutes? Begin with a joke about it – one the group will appreciate. Then stop being cranky and move on. You can do it.

Of course, this all assumes that you want to connect with people, come off as a strong leader and be all around more likeable.

If you don’t care about any of this, then scowl away. Just like the guy in Winery B…whatever his name was.

Just know that there’s no going back. There’s no delete button.

And someday someone might just blog about you…and use you as an example of what not to do in those first two seconds.

Now, go do good…and do it well.


14 responses to “The Two Seconds that Matter Most”

  1. pregtastic Avatar

    Thanks for this. Perfect timing as I’m in LA for a couple days, couple meetings.


    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      And no better place to practice, yes? Thanks for the comment…and good luck!

  2. Rhonda Rhyne Avatar
    Rhonda Rhyne

    As usual, your content is spot on! Thanks for the reminder. Rhonda

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Why thank you Rhonda – I’m so pleased you find it helpful!!

  3. Janie Allen Avatar
    Janie Allen

    Wonderful and correct! I was also wining my way through the Willamette Valley on the weekend. I take a notebook and make notes about the wine, the view and the experience. Some say, “go back, really nice service” and some say “don’t waste your time returning.”

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      And I’ll bet those “don’t waste your time…” notes aren’t always about the wine! Winery B will never see me again – even if the Pinot had turned out to be fantastic! Thanks Janie 🙂

  4. gloria regan Avatar

    Deidre, Hello!
    Interesting read and a good reminder. My test would be can I be pleasant for me…and possibly make the other guys day too! It takes
    longer for me to make a snap decision, like 10 minutes. A person may be a writer, artist or someone that is a deep thinker…which I enjoy,
    and my belief about success may be somewhat different because I’m older…older now and see life as a journey.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      What a great way to look at it, Gloria! I wish i had the patience to give it 10 minutes, but I must admit I’m not quite there yet. It’s a good reminder that people deserve a chance…even if we’re put off in that first moment!

  5. Tina Sarno Inscoe Avatar

    Right on per usual Deidre! Always a great reminder to be positive and smile no matter what – it will actually help you too if as you said you started your day with something negative. Smiling and receiving a smile back can make you feel better than you might realize!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      I completely agree. Even when I’m not in a “smiley” mood in the beginning, sometimes i find just going through the motions makes us both feel better in the end…thanks for the great comment Tina!

  6. J. Dickinson Avatar
    J. Dickinson

    Hi Deirdre,
    I practice this when I get coffee in the morning. I open the door for others and always tell them to have a nice day. Only takes a second. It is so amazing to see how many people are surprised while others don’t even acknowledge the gesture. I pray my decision will make a difference in someone’s day and they ‘pass it on’ making a difference in someone else’s day.
    Thank you for these e-mails.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      What a great routine! I’m guessing your gesture strikes more people than you know and is talked about at various offices soon afterwards by those you come across…thanks for sharing!

  7. Patricia Costa Avatar
    Patricia Costa

    Thank you Deirdre again for great incite. I have observed people who are intelligent and know their stuff but fail when it comes to attitude – notta! I would much rather interact with someone pleasant and even pay more money than with someone who is indifferent.

  8. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

    I’m with you there…Pleasant people have an upper hand in all kinds of ways, and sometimes indifference is even worse than someone who is just downright cranky! Thanks for the great comment!