Have you ever eaten at a restaurant and had the “absolute best” meal ever, only to take friends there later and have just an “OK” meal? The food is fine, but something is missing; it doesn’t feel the same. The operative word is feel and it is intricately linked with how the brain builds memory. Memory is most heavily imprinted in your brain by feelings you have during an experience, and you can use that neuro-knowledge to your advantage when building any kind of relationship – business or personal. Exceptional performers intuitively know this stuff, but now it’s time to get the word out so everyone can take advantage of profitable impressions.
Think about your client or colleague relationships. What distinguishes the good from the bad? Much of what you uncover will probably lead back to mutual feelings you had during your initial meetings. Science shows our brains take “Polaroid snapshots” within milliseconds of a first meeting and then store these snapshots as memories. The feelings related to those pictures predict the path of the relationship; the stronger the initial emotion, the thicker the memory paths in the brain. In other words, we tend to remember more of what we feel. Importantly, we protect ourselves from bad memories (we shun them) and are drawn to good ones.
You may think all of this talk about feelings is not about business, but you would be way off the mark. Exceptional performers use their instinctual knowledge about memory and feelings with artistry. It is part of what makes them magnetic. They are the people we go back to again and again because we feel good in their presence and they deliver the goods we came for on top of that. They fit the definition of the most powerful people in the world – Shortcuts – the people (or organizations) we go to that get things done more efficiently, more expertly and with more grace than we could. They make life easier and more pleasurable. They make us like ourselves. They are office managers, sales people, supervisors, even CEOs.
As you strive to create successful first impressions, it’s useful to know there are more negative receptors in the brain than positive ones; therefore, an unpleasant hook is set more quickly when your first meeting doesn’t get off on the right foot. The lesson is clear. First impressions are worth thinking about before you make them. Here are some tips to anchor positive memories in your business relationships:
If someone expresses fear of any kind, make him or her feel safe as quickly as you possibly can. You might not always have good news, but get creative and think about at least one safe and reasonable upside to this person’s issue. For example, in the financial world – since it is so battered and bruised right now – a broker’s conversation with a client could go something like this: “You’re right, the economy is bad, and there are things we can do to protect your principal until it becomes sane again.
Let’s be proactive about that now.” Safety is simple, but you have to be on the lookout for signs of fear or you’ll miss the opportunity to create the safe haven. Staying the course and sitting tight when someone is afraid won’t provide a good feeling or memory. You need to remove the danger, or at least minimize it. Telling someone to “deal with it” instead of empathizing with his or her fear is sure to lead to a bad snapshot.
Over-communicate at first. Part of those initial memories will be from the first meeting; the rest will be the immediate follow-up contact you have in the relationship. Find non-annoying ways to keep in contact within the first few days of meeting new people. They want to feel important and wanted. They want to feel like you were paying attention to the conversation. That’s what they remember about you when describing you to friends. Send off a quick e-mail, something like: “I really enjoyed meeting you this afternoon. I look forward to the next time. By the way, in light of our discussion about your daughter, here’s an article I found about teens and authority. Enjoy.”
Lighten up. There are fewer, more powerful paths to the heart than laughter and lightness. Not all humor is appropriate for all situations, but laughter and lightness are always right. Listen for openings that sound like tangents to the business at hand but are really stress busters. Hobbies, family, vacations all bring up lightness and sometimes laughter. Use them.
The brain craves fairness. There is a place in the brain that is positively tickled by fairness. It’s the same place that initiates the good feelings people get from sex and chocolate. That’s not a typo. When fairness in a relationship is present, it feels like a reward — it actually feels pleasurable. Neuroscientists have isolated the brain process and indeed fairness brings on those warm feelings. On the flip side, when a relationship or deal feels unfair, the brain yearns so much for that positive feeling from fairness that it can cause individuals to act in vengeful ways to — even up the score. If you want to establish positive feelings in a relationship, always check your conversations and contracts for fairness. Win/win is a cliché because it’s true. •