The Social Nightmare: What You Can Do After a Bad First Impression

You’ve planned, rehearsed, and know exactly what you want to say. You are more than aware how critical a first impression can be. It all happens in the first few moments of meeting someone. You don’t have a lot of time, and yet, so much can occur in those precious few seconds.

Then you meet, and during those four seconds, you do “that thing” you hoped to avoid. You bomb the handshake, say something unintentionally insensitive, make a joke in poor taste, or say the wrong name.


Accept it and move on. Some first impressions don’t matter as much as others. You must make the distinction. You may have stumbled, but you could still have the opportunity to get right back up and continue with the conversation. Remain forward-thinking and don’t dwell.

Reestablish yourself. You still have the rest of the conversation ahead of you. Use this time to show the other person a different side of the “first-impression you.” If you tried to play up your sense of humor and told a flat joke, take a break from comedy. We all have different personalities, and you don’t want to rely too heavily on one aspect. Let yourself be multidimensional.

Apologize. There are instances where an apology may be necessary. The goal isn’t to draw more attention to the flub, but simply to acknowledge your mistake. A bad joke or the wrong name deserves a quick, “Sorry about that,” and maybe a brief explanation, if warranted — but refrain from making excuses. And, if you do apologize, be succinct and move on.

Give yourself a second chance. Remember, not every first impression is a last impression. Even if you screw up a first impression, you may have more opportunities to make up for it and build a strong relationship with the other person. Don’t be hard on yourself. The person on the other side knows how critical a first impression is and may be more than willing to look past a rocky start — but you have to be just as willing.