Making Good Impressions in the 21st Century


With more devices available and more cultures combining in fast, new, and unpredictable ways, it is easier than ever to annoy others with inconsiderate behavior, intentionally and otherwise. While there are many ways to make a bad impression, I will cover two of the most common today:

1)Paying Attention to your Device Instead of the Person or People You are With

I can’t speak for everyone, but few things annoy me quite as thoroughly as when a person I am meeting with, whether socially or for business, whips out a device and zones out. It’s twice as bad when it’s unannounced and unexplained.

Time passes and devices tend to hide this from us — we experience time passing more slowly. The catch is that the people we’re with are experiencing time passing normally and our mental absence goes from annoying to egregious pretty fast.

Generally, people tend to not speak up when they are affected by obnoxious device use. Instead, they mentally take note of the offender as a rude, inconsiderate person and then gradually withdraw from dealings with such a person.

And rightly so.

The worst thing you can say to a person is that they are not worth paying attention to. Ignoring who you’re with in favor of someone far away says “I care so little about you that I wish I were with this other person instead.”

And failing to excuse yourself if it’s something of vital importance says “I care so little about you that communicating at all is a tremendous chore that I don’t think is worth it.”

A reassuring sentence or two can make a big difference if you know you have to divide your time while you’re in someone’s company.

I have found that when I am in a meeting, I try to avoid my cell phone as much as possible. I might check the time or, if I am waiting on an important text, I may check it once or twice. I try to avoid texting or looking things up unless it is vitally important and I make sure to let everyone present know what I am up to so that no one feels slighted.


2)Arriving Late

There are numerous cultures where time is considered to be more fluid and lateness is considered standard operating procedure. There are islands in the Caribbean where “I’ll meet you at noon” means “The earliest you might see me is just before noon, though it might be much later.” There is nothing wrong with this approach and when you are in such a place, blending in and living in the moment can be a lot of fun.

In today’s cities and the global environment in general, your best bet is to be on time. And the very best way to be on time is to be early.

In most cities, arriving late signals that the other person’s time isn’t valuable and that they aren’t important enough for you to bother keeping agreements with. Needless to say that such a small infraction can damage or destroy business and social relationships alike.

And even if you don’t think that a person is important or that his/her time is valuable, keep in mind that you never know who exactly you are dealing with. That bartender could have a significant relationship with an important client or could be quietly building a business that could prove a key player in your dealings down the road. And if you burn that bridge before it’s built?


This kind of Karma has a funny way of biting people in the ass. Treat people as important and value their time, no matter who (you think) they are.

Habitual lateness is much worse because it signals to other people that you not only don’t care about them but that you don’t care about yourself, either. And if you don’t care about yourself, why should anyone else bother with you, outside of pity? How much can pity help you to improve yourself, your business, or your social life?


Among people who know me, there is a sense of trust that I will be on time. My method for being 99.9% punctual is:

If I am meeting someone in the same town, I calculate how much time I would need to arrive at a place on time and then I give myself an extra half hour (or more if it is a weekend or holiday). If a meeting is terribly important, I research to make sure there is no expected maintenance with whatever commute method I’m using and along the route and if there are any political arrivals or parades planned for the day (and add more time to my journey if any of these things are true).

Most of the time, I am early and have time to relax and think about who I am meeting before meeting with people. I usually have a book and a notebook in my bag and if a coffee shop is nearby, all the better. I prefer sitting with a cup of coffee and a book for fifteen minutes or more to damaging relationships and making poor impressions. I think you should, too.

How have you seen distraction and tardiness annoy you in your own life? Are you struggling with these challenges yourself? Have you found anything useful in dealing with these challenges that works for you?


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