First impressions can mean a lot. In fact, in business, your "approachability" can mean everything.
But being able to make that all-important first impression can be more difficult than we think. We might like to believe that we are approachable, open, friendly. But, in reality, how we want to be perceived by others may not always come across.
I generally consider myself a cheerful, easy-going person. So, it came as a shock when I was told one day by an old flatmate of mine – someone I now consider to be a good friend – that when I first moved in with her, she found me distant and standoffish. I had come across as moody, unapproachable, and even rude!
Yes, I probably kept to myself a bit at first, when I really should have been putting in the effort to socialize. But I was shy and felt awkward.
I'd wanted to come across as friendly… but, according to my friend, my face and body language told a different story.
A Sudden Realization
Looking back now, I don't think that I had ever really realized, until that moment, the difference that simple gestures can make when you're trying to make a good first impression. Body language, communication and facial expression all play an important part in making you approachable to others.
I felt bad. I hadn't even noticed that my flatmate felt this way. I thought I was doing my best to be open and friendly. But, in actual fact, my shyness and nerves made me appear withdrawn and unwelcoming.
I'm happy to say that, once I'd got settled into the new flat, we got on very well with one another and are friends to this day. But the experience made me realize that I needed to work on my approachability.
The Importance of "Approachability"
As I've gotten older, I've tried hard not to fall into the same trap again, particularly at work. Of course, we all have our off days. Days when we wish we could just hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on our desk and get our heads down.
But, work isn't like that. You can't (like I did) just shut yourself away. And it pays to be approachable, to remain friendly, open and willing to help.
The ability to make friends is important. Not only in a social context, but also in a business context. It can help us to build up our network of useful contacts, make new partnerships, close deals, and encourage communication and collaboration within our team.
No one wants to be known as the "one to avoid" at work. If we fail to notice that we are being unapproachable, we risk missing out on new experiences, new people, and new ideas. And, in fact, taking steps to increase our approachability can significantly improve both our own and our team's happiness and productivity.
Sometimes all that's needed is a small change in body language or, as I've learnt from my experience, a simple smile. As the old saying goes, "Smile and the whole world smiles with you."
To learn more about the steps you can take to make a good impression at work, take a look at our infographic, which discusses what you can do to become more approachable.