The Seven Second Advantage

By Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.  carol.gorman

You’re at a business conference and you turn to the stranger standing next to you. He turns to face you and in that instant your brain makes a thousand computations. Is he someone to approach or to avoid? Should you flee or be friendly? Will he harm you or help you?

In about seven seconds you’ve already decided whether you like and trust him. Sure, your opinion may change once you get to know the person better, but that first impression will always linger.

And, by the way, while you’re consciously and unconsciously evaluating him, he’s also making the same kind of instantaneous judgments about you.

In business interactions, first impressions are crucial. Once someone mentally labels you as “likeable” or “trustworthy,” everything else you do will be viewed through that filter. If someone likes you, she’ll look for the best in you. If she doesn’t like you or mistrusts you, she’ll suspect devious motives in all your actions.  

While you can’t stop people from making snap decisions – the human brain is hardwired in this way as a prehistoric survival mechanism – you can understand how to make those decisions work in your favor.

First impressions are more heavily influenced by nonverbal cues than verbal cues. In fact, studies have found that nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say. Luckily, the same nonverbal factors that draw you to certain people are what others are instinctively looking for in you.

We all want to do business with people who are trustworthy and energizing, who put us at ease and make us feel good about ourselves. Luckily, these are the very qualities that you can project nonverbally in those first crucial seven seconds. Here are six powerful ways to make a positive first impression:

1. Adjust your attitude. People pick up your attitude instantly. Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom, or step onstage to make a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. Attitudes that attract people include curious, friendly, happy, receptive, patient, approachable, welcoming, helpful and curious. Attitudes that are off-putting include angry, impatient, bored, arrogant, afraid, disheartened, and suspicious.

2. Smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. It says, “I’m friendly and approachable.”

3. Make eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (To improve your eye contact, make a practice of noticing the eye color of everyone you meet.)

4. Raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.

5. Shake hands. This is the quickest way to establish rapport. It’s also the most effective. Research shows it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of rapport that you can get with a single handshake.

6. Lean in slightly. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.

Once you’ve passed the “seven-second test” and are engaged in conversation with another person, you can create a lasting and positive impact by adding a single nonverbal component to a simple verbal statement. Here’s how to do it: When you meet someone and they tell you their name, find a way to repeat that name later in the conversation. And as you do, anchor the positive emotion (which your use of their name evokes) by touching the person lightly on the forearm.

The impact of this brief touch comes from the fact that you have aroused positive feelings in an individual by remembering and using his name, and as you touch his arm, those positive emotions get linked (or anchored) to your touch. Then at subsequent meetings you can reactivate that initial favorable impression by once again lightly touching your acquaintance’s arm.

Every encounter, from conferences to meetings to training sessions to business lunches, presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional contacts by making a positive first impression. You’ve got just seven seconds – but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need!


 About the Author: Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is a keynote speaker, leadership communication consultant, body language coach, and author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.” Carol’s newest book, “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and How to Deal with Them” is available for pre-order on Amazon. Carol can reached by email:, phone: 510-526-1727, or through her website: 




  1. Michelle Griffith on February 25, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Great advice! Can you share with us what role, if any, that good posture plays in the first seven seconds?

    • Carol Kinsey Goman on February 25, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      Here’s just one role that good posture plays:

      Status and authority are non-verbally displayed by height and (taking up) space. Taller people look like leaders. Which may explain why 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs are over 6’2″ compared to 3% of the U.S. population.

      But what if you aren’t over 6 feet? You can still create the illusion of height by displaying good posture — standing tall, keeping your shoulders back and head high. (And if you are a female, you can wear high heels.)