First impressions and setting the tone with clients

John Atherton feeding Spam to a wild fox at the Kukak Bay, Alaska, archaeological camp in 1964
Image courtesy of gbaku

We really only have once chance to make a first impression. Whether it’s a new friend, a potential collaborator, or a new client. The first impression sets the tone for all other interactions that come after it. Which is why it’s important to be aware of how we present ourselves, what does one say, and how do we say it.

The first time we meet someone a template is set, a pattern is formed that will influence every interaction we have with that person. If we laugh and have a good time then they will expect to laugh and enjoy themselves the next time we meet. It’s not a conscious thing, rather our brain picks up on the emotional high points of our interaction. When again we meet; our brain looks into it’s depths to find any memories of this person. Our subconscious looks for patterns, and uses them like a script of how to act. It’s a survival mechanism. Was I in danger the last time this happened? Was I happy, did I live, was I hurt?

Brain Patterns

By reacting to patterns our brain helped us survive in the wild. Though we are no longer in any great danger (those of us in First World countries anyways) our brain still behaves the same. We are not on the great savanna anymore, and rarely do we face down creatures that want to eat us. Yet the brain’s habit remains. Only now it saves us at different times. Such as when we meet someone new.

Our brain records the emotional high points of our new meeting, our new friend, and stores them for the next time we need them. A firm handshake and steady eye contact, a weak voice and a poor stance, or bouncing off the walls with energy. Next time you meet these will be the expectations they have.

Setting the tone with new clients

When you meet with a new client how do you act; how do you let them act? If you kowtow to them, thanking them every other moment for using your service, they will expect the “yes sir” from them every time you meet. What happens when they want features that might not be the best solution for their problem? If you bended to their every whim before they will expect it again, even if it hurts the project.

Similar if you bully and push a client around they will expect it and could be hesitant to ask questions or offer insight into their specific business.

The best approach is to take the middle path. Be kind, honest and open. Let the client speak on their opinion and thoughts, but be firm in guiding them towards the idea of working together to find solutions. If you lay the groundwork early you can set a tone of mutual respect and cooperation.

Doing this from the very beginning makes it easier to create a foundation of a good relationship. It steers the interaction in a healthy direction, and keeps everything civil and open.

We only have one chance to make a first impression. We might as well set the tone we want for future interactions.

First impressions and setting the tone with clients by  
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