Should you trust your gut?

I received an envelope recently from a consultant who billed her practice as “Positive First Impressions.” In a bit of comic irony, the envelope with a blotchy return address label was addressed to “SBM Magazine.”

My first response was that it might be a joke. It wasn’t. The envelope contained a booklet that offered 83 ways to make positive first impressions. To be fair, most of the tips were pretty useful, but it drove home how easy it is to make a bad first impression.

I get lots of personal and business mail with my last name spelled incorrectly. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my name lands on multiple mailing lists and that it’s likely a single misspelling of it will be picked up by any number of mass mailers or marketers.

I’ve gotten names wrong, publicly and privately, so I don’t take offense when others get mine wrong on a piece of mail. Most of the time, I just view it as a tip-off that the sender doesn’t know me.

I remember going to a news conference announcing that a company had been sold to a local businessman. I don’t recall much about it but I remember thinking, “There’s something about this guy that I don’t trust.” Sure enough, a few years later, he was hauled into court, convicted on a number of criminal counts and spent some time in the crossbar hotel.

Making snap judgments is something that everyone, especially journalists, ought to avoid. An executive I interviewed once told me that he didn’t trust anyone who wore cufflinks. Nonetheless, I’ve found that a first impression is something to at least pay attention to, whether it’s the way someone dresses, a handshake or how his or her receptionist greets me.

It may not prove to be a fully accurate assessment, but good or bad, it will stick with me if it sticks out.

So when you’re addressing an envelope, sending an e-mail or greeting someone in your office or theirs for the first time, be careful. Treat your first impression like it’s your last.