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First impression, key impression.

First Impression, Key Impression

The fortune cookie is correct: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. First impressions are essential in the security business, whether it is a guard checking in visitors at a reception desk, an officer patrolling a building, a supervisor training a new officer, or a security department manager debriefing a company official. For each person the following facts apply:

* It takes less than two minutes to make an impression.

* A positive first impression builds credibility, rapport, and trust - critical factors in the security business.

* It is difficult, probably impossible, to change a negative first impression unless you have time to do so.

* First impressions depend on what people see, not on what you say.

The process by which first impressions are formed is complicated but predictable. When we meet someone for the first time in face-to-face interactions, the receiver's eyes take into account a tremendous amount of information. Therefore, the first key question to ask yourself and your staff is: What do I look like? What messages do my body language and appearance give?

What do you look like? There is a sequence by which people process information when meeting someone for the first time, and it begins with the nonverbal. At any point during an interaction, one or more of the following attributes may stand out; if they do, the other person has to work through them before proceeding to the next one:

* skin color

* gender

* age

* appearance

* facial expressions

* eye contact

* personal space

* movement

* touch

Fifty-five percent of meaning is conveyed, studies indicate, by just these nine nonverbals. It may not be the meaning you - or that guard - intended. You may not intend to be seen as hostile, arrogant, rude, or slovenly, but people meeting you for the first time tend to believe what their eyes tell them about you.

The power of nonverbal communication is such that in our society we are more likely to respond to orders coming from someone in uniform than from someone in civilian clothes. Research documents how persuasive guard uniforms are - (using uniform, badge, insignia, but no gun) - in achieving compliance. In fact, some

evidence suggests wearing a uniform affects the psychology of the wearer, perhaps increasing his or her authoritative behavior.

The uniform itself provides so much power in most situations that it may be unnecessary to push it further with mirrored or dark sunglasses, swaggering movements, unrelenting eye contact, or aggressive gestures. In fact, for many cultures in the United States, such body language may exacerbate tension and heighten conflict.

Once people take in what they see, they zero in on your voice - assuming they haven't made up their minds based on the nonverbals alone. A voice will either enhance the initial impression or change it and that makes the next question just as important as how you look.

What do you sound like? The voice is such a powerful communication tool that it contributes 38 percent of the meaning in direct interactions and 70 percent to 90 percent in telephone conversations. Further, if contradiction exists between what someone says and how he or she says it, most people will believe the how and disregard the words.

The voice has a physical effect on both speaker and receiver. For example, the rate at which we speak as well as our volume can calm people or arouse them further, which makes the voice an invaluable tool. Conflict can be resolved more readily by a soft tone and a slower speaking rate than by shouting or speaking quickly. Speaking clearly and precisely to someone with a hearing impairment or language difficulty aids understanding more than a mumbled instruction or turning away of the head.

Finally - hopefully - the receiver listens to your words. They are worth but 7 percent of the meaning in the first few moments of a new interaction because the other person has so much to take in with the eyes and ears. You had better hope the receiver has waited for what you say - that you have not been written off before you have said a word. Language is important, but if receivers do not like what they see in body language or appearance or are stopped by something in your voice, they may not care about the words. Their minds may be made up and their impression of you formed.

What do you say? Once the receiver starts listening to your language, that 7 percent previously mentioned becomes larger and more important. After all, words are where your expertise lies, and that is how information gets transmitted. Your choice of words, how you organize your ideas, and what evidence you offer in support of them are all factors in making what you say effective.

Keep in mind, however, that in oral communication, meaning may reside more powerfully in a facial expression or a tone of voice than in a verbal statement. The best communicators, those who make good first impressions, make all three communication channels - nonverbal, vocal, and verbal - work together. There is a consistency between what is said and how it is said.

Given the importance of first impressions in establishing credibility and in building rapport and trust, astute managers find out what kind of impressions their employees make. They do not sit in their offices and assume all is well; they set standards that value and reward good communication and give corrective feedback to those who need it. Good managers observe employees often and directly, although sometimes discretely, as they interact with people. They ask others what kind of an impression their security personnel make on the phones, in person, and on every shift. Training and orientation sessions stress the importance of communication skills.

The United Nations (UN) recently took direct action to improve the image of its security officers. In a memorandum from Anthony O'Connell, chief of the UN Security and Safety Service, officers were reminded that they work under the eyes of diplomats and countless tourists and must observe proper military decorum. Among his admonitions were the following:

* Smoking and chewing gum are forbidden while in uniform.

* Carrying bags, packages, or other items while in uniform is not permitted.

* Leaning against walls or door-jambs is forbidden.

* Officers with their hands in their pockets or their thumbs hooked in their belts look either lackadaisical or aggressive - or both. All members of the service must refrain from doing so.

Perhaps these four simple guidelines and the questions discussed in this article will be all you will need to make your security officers aware of their appearance. Perhaps it is as simple as the fortune cookie says: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Janet G. Elsea, PhD, is founder and president of Communications Skills based in Phoenix, AZ. Dr. Elsea consults with security forces, police and fire departments, and animal control units. She is the author of First Impression, Best Impression.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:image in the security business
Author:Elsea, Janet G.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:1159
Previous Article:Why don't we get off the fence?
Next Article:Practical Security in Commerce and Industry, 5th ed.
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