Meditation techniques dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years like to throw around the idea of being in present the moment. The gist of this ageless wisdom is quite simple: when you focus your mind into the ‘now’, you lower certain introspective barriers which inhibit your susceptibility to spontaneously arising thoughts. In other words, you become more aware of your own presence.

Now let’s switch the table around and transpose this train of thought onto the people around us. We like to think we are lucidly aware of our environment, but in many respects vast amounts of information flies right through us without so much as scraping further engagement by our mental faculties. People we interact with are no exception: names, faces, gestures, expressions, language – countless details entailed in these subtle facets of interaction elude us without our realising it.

In terms of networking, representing a company or even just navigating casual business encounters, our presence is monitored on a continuous basis, both consciously as well as subconsciously.

By now you can probably guess where I’m going with this, but in case it isn’t clear, the point is to emphasize the importance of being aware of presence, whether it is our own or that of others – and the cardinal thesis of this simple article is to convince you it’s worth investing in.

Think of each time someone cut a conversation short because of a phone call, greeted everyone in a group except you or failed to grasp your point because they clearly misheard something you said. Most of the time these will be unintentional mishaps with no bad intentions behind them whatsoever. But if you had the chance to stop time at those moments and closely inspect your affective reaction you might agree that your image of the ‘offending’ person has taken a negative hit. Pragmatically (or explicitly) this may seem insignificant: we brush off these kinds of etiquette breaches all the time and move on. Yet if there’s one thing psychology (in spite of all its flaws) has extensively evidenced, it’s the fact that human social cognition is inherently lazy. Deep down (that is, implicitly) it is easier not to move on.

Thinking takes effort, and our brains cut corners wherever possible – in other words, all the time. Minimal information is sufficient for us to construct completely hypothetical and inferential representations of the people around us. A single picture of a face is enough to predict electoral success (Rule et al., 2010), a single action consistently invites unintentional associations of implied character traits (Todorov & Uleman, 2002) and simply having a culture will influence how smart your teachers expect you to be (Clifford & Walster, 1973).

As you will know from your own social maneuvers during that interrupting phone call in the middle of your much-anticipated meet-and-greet, we are perfectly capable of reshaping our explicit impressions fairly effortlessly – brushing things off, remember? Our implicit, or ‘gut feeling’, impressions, however, are more difficult to change. But not impossible.

Again, you might not be surprised to learn that it is much easier to change positive implicit impression into negative ones (we seem to love thinking the worst of others). But negative implicit impressions, too, can be changed into positive ones and the key to that puzzle lies in reinterpretation information. Researchers from Cornell University (Mann & Ferguson, 2017) presented participants with the story and picture of Francis West, an all-round unpleasant guy who breaks into houses and steals precious things from children’s rooms. Participants then made pleasantness judgements between Francis’ and random faces. Understandably, given Francis was seen as a class-A tosser, he tended to be rejected in favour of random faces.  

Two days later, some of the participants were told Francis had in fact broken in the house to rescue two little girls from a raging house fire. For those participants, Francis’ face was no longer judged as unfavourably. The message is perhaps simple and veiled into a rather crude methodology, but then again, as in the case of Buddhist wisdom, it can be a game-changer if you take the time to really consider its meaning.

Let me phrase it for you: your presence conveys subtle, yet deep-rooted impressions which people around are bound to impinge into their representational framework. However, this image can be reversed, if sufficient information is provided to consolidate reinterpretation. In other words, remaining vigilant of your presence is critical and hugely beneficial. This means listening to others attentively, speaking clearly and purposefully, not being afraid to laugh, having the courage to rationally challenge as well as express agreement and compliments in situations where these things hit home. And if you missed any of these things, confronting the issue and explaining yourself may indeed be better than ignoring it in the hopes that people will reach the same conclusions on their own – because they won’t.

Strive to improve the control you have over message you send with your presence. Places like Arctic15 deal room are perhaps the most significant and impactful environments where even slight, yet purposeful application of the aforementioned framework can yield enormous benefits to your goals. Get ready, make the most out of your 20 minutes and be a part of the 40% who seal the deal. Most importantly, however, achieve that by being fully present during those moments.

References:

Clifford, M. M., & Walster, E. (1973). Research note: The effect of physical attractiveness on teacher expectations. Sociology of education46(2), 248-258.

Mann, T. C., & Ferguson, M. J. (2017). Reversing implicit first impressions through reinterpretation after a two-day delay. Journal of experimental social psychology, 68, 122-127.

Rule, N. O., Ambady, N., Adams Jr, R. B., Ozono, H., Nakashima, S., Yoshikawa, S., & Watabe, M. (2010). Polling the face: prediction and consensus across cultures. Journal of personality and social psychology, 98(1), 1.

Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2002). Spontaneous trait inferences are bound to actors’ faces: Evidence from a false recognition paradigm. Journal of personality and social psychology83(5), 1051.