Your 4-Step Guide for Rehabilitating a Totally Botched First Impression

Photo: Getty Images/10000 Hours
If you're ever afraid you made a bad first impression, take comfort in the fact that you're not Blair Waldorf. During my annual re-watch of Gossip Girl, I noticed the most spectacular first-impression eff-up in the history of pop culture: Chuck says he'd like to introduce Blair to his date for the evening, and Blair swipes back with, "Why? So she can warn me about the effects of too much Botox?" Great line, but his date happens to be Duchess Beaton, who is the stepmother of Blair's current boyfriend. Whoops.

So that's a pretty specific, melodramatic example that probably won't directly affect your life, but considering that it takes approximately seven seconds to make a first impression (or even a tenth of a second, depending on whom you ask), you've probably witnessed or been guilty of some pretty stellar missteps as well. But if you don't knock it out of the park the first time you meet someone, how do you nail a second impression and reverse the damage?

That problem was resolved in classically CW way for our Gossip Girl friends: Blair caught the Duchess having sex with Nate, Blair's ex, on the library floor and was able to use that tidbit against her. Very convenient. In real life though, it might have help to have some more practical tools in your toolbox, should you ever flub a job interview, exude grumpiness around a mutual friend, or, fine, accidentally insult your paramour's stepmother who is also your ex's secret lover. (God, what was that show?)

So the next time you get a little Waldorfian when you meet someone important, check out the helpful hints below to make it right with your second impression.

Check out 4 steps for making a stellar second impression after botching your first try.

1. Get real with yourself

Before you exercise damage control, remember that you're probably your own harshest critic. You may think that you're doing the right thing by apologizing for your weird mood, but you might just be drawing extra attention to something the other person didn't even notice was off.

"Most people are focused on themselves and probably didn't notice any blunder from you nearly as much as you're guessing they did." —life coach Susie Moore

"You're probably making it out in your head to be worse than it was," says life coach Susie Moore. "Most people are focused on themselves and probably didn't notice any blunder from you nearly as much as you're guessing they did. You can even ask a friend if there was one present, 'Hey, was it bad?' You're likely to be surprised, and relieved."

2. Say sorry without dwelling on it

"If you feel it was truly significant, you can straight out apologize," Moore says. Helpful hint for situations that warrant a straightforward apology? If you feel you were outwardly rude to the person in question—because then, you have something to actually apologize for. But it it's a matter of simply being in an "off" mood, you might just want to share, human-to-human, where you were coming from.

For instance, the first time I met my boyfriend's friend Carrie, I was hysterically weeping because I had just gotten my laptop stolen. I ended up getting my laptop back, but six months later, I still feel like I haven't shaken the reputation of "Luke's hot-mess sobbing girlfriend" from Carrie's point of view. How can I remedy that?

"Own it, and be confident in apologizing," Moore suggests. "Something like, 'Carrie, when we first met, I just had my laptop stolen and I'm embarrassed that I was emotional that night. Can we start over?' Honesty is the best policy for a reason: It clears the air."

3. Smile!

People tend to catch each other's energy, and if you address the bad first impression with a lot of gravity, the person in question is going to take on that heaviness. And unless you've messed up to epic proportions, it's best to play it off like a simple misunderstanding. Because it probably is, and you're probably a radiant sunflower of a person. So show it!

"If you address a perceived poor first impression, smile and be light as you do it," Moore says. "Humans are wired for mimicry, so if you're light and easy, the person you're talking to is likely to be light and easy about it too."

4. And once you've made your peace, move on

Because the reality is, we can only do so much to control how people perceive us, and we're the only ones who have to be at peace about our own authentic self. So yes, you want to get that job, and you want your friend's friend to like you, and you want to win the good graces of your in-laws. But there's no need to emotionally dwell on a first impression or a second impression longer than the amount of time it takes to make them.

"Once you've committed to forget it or address it, great," Moore says. "There's nothing more you need to do. Stop punishing yourself and move on. Don't waste another single second feeling bad about the past. Your power is in the now."

And if that's impossible to accept, there's always blackmail. XOXO, Gossip Girl

Feel like your BFF hates you? You may suffer from Friendship Imposter Syndrome. BTW, this is why you tell little white lies to keep a conversation going. 

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