How Do I Recover From A Bad First Impression?

As soon as you woke up this morning, you immediately got this funny, uneasy feeling and remembered that cringe worthy experience at yesterday’s client meeting. Oh, boy. Now what? You now realize you may have made a bad first impression with someone you are hoping to do business with or you embarrassed yourself in front of the head of the company (or both—yikes). Sometimes this circumstance is easily remedied on the spot, and other times, you may not realize it until you’ve gone home. In either case, recovering from a bad first impression or embarrassing incident is possible and you can save the future of the relationship you were trying to build. Everyone makes mistakes—forgetting a client’s name, unintentionally offending someone, spilling coffee on someone’s suit, or sending the wrong person an email are a few. But there are different things you should do when these things happens.

You should apologize as soon as you realize you’ve made a mistake to avoid the story being told and blown out of proportion. Be sincere about it and follow the three steps in an apology: own up to the mistake, acknowledge that it hurt someone, and commit to not making that mistake again. On the other hand, don’t over apologize; once is enough. If you continue to beg for forgiveness, the other person will feel they have to constantly reassure you, and this can be just as uncomfortable. Make no assumptions about the other person. While you may think what you did was awful, the other person may see it as no big deal. Don’t start the conversation with “You must think I’m an idiot/rude/a jerk”. Instead say something like “I’m uncomfortable with what I just said/said last night because I think it may have offended you. Do you feel the same way?” Then you will know how your actions truly affected them. You might even make a joke about yourself to show that you are capable of moving on.

There are things you can avoid doing so you won’t make a bad impression in the future. If you are really sick before an interview or meeting, reschedule. No one wants to feel that you could get them sick, too or that you are so desperate to please them that you wouldn’t risk the inconvenience of rescheduling. When you receive a call from a prospective client, try to make time to talk to them even if you are really busy. If you must speak with them at another time, be polite and schedule a specific day and time in the near future. Try to respond to emails within 24 hours…technology may give people an unrealistic idea of how soon you should respond, but if you wait too long, they will move on. If you are unsure how to dress for a meeting or interview, find out about the culture of the other company and determine what is appropriate. If you don’t have much to go on, it is better to show up in a business suit and find out everyone else is in jeans that to show up in a sundress or cargo pants and discover ties and jackets are part of their everyday attire. Be prepared to answer common questions and know what you should charge or pay the person for the job. Always give a firm handshake and eye contact when you meet them and pay attention to non-verbal cues indicating interest or disinterest.

After you do make a bad impression, evaluate what happened and determine if you really made a bad impression or if you just perceived it that way. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is ignore the incident rather than bringing it up again. Go with your instincts and then let it go. It’s impossible to always make a good first impression, so don’t be too hard on yourself after a bad one.