You behaved too informally at a job interview, shared too much on a first date, made a politically incorrect remark in a mixed crowd, insulted a new acquaintance with a careless remark, gossiped and then regretted it. Everyone gets nervous, tries too hard, and blows it, at some point, but how do you undo the damage?

"Negative or inappropriate words and behaviors have a greater impact on first impressions than positive," says Allison Cohen, MA, MFT, a psychotherapist in Tarzana, California. "It's a warning signal to the receiver that he or she must proceed with caution."

That's probably not the way you wish to be viewed—or remembered! Here are 6 rules to follow to help reverse a bad impression:

1. Follow up immediately

The person who has received a bad impression of you isn't likely to pursue a second meeting, so it's up to you to figure out how to grab a second chance. Reach out immediately and try to meet with the individual a second time.

2. Watch what you say

You may have spoken too informally or said something out of nervousness that was out of line under the circumstances. Consider how to reframe your thoughts in a more positive light, and be careful to err on the side of formality with strangers and potential employers, even if you are meeting under informal circumstances, such as at a party.

3. Admit mistakes

Once you've blown it, own up to your mistake in a non-defensive way. When you get a second chance to make a good impression, you must quickly try to undo the wrong impression you previously made. Honesty is endearing and can put you back in another's good graces.

4. Be timely

If you made a bad impression by being late for a meeting or event, even if you had a legitimate excuse, you may have appeared rude, disrespectful, or disorganized, at best. Make sure it doesn't happen again and be early the next time.

5. Check your tech

It is very easy to make a bad impression writing emails, sending text messages and posting on social media. Before you hit "send" or "post," check for typos and make sure your vocabulary, grammar, and level of detail and formality are appropriate for the medium, the occasion and the recipient.

6. Demonstrate your strengths

If you don't have an opportunity to undo a bad impression, work hard to create a new impression by showing how reliable, skilled, helpful, and forthright you can actually be.

"If you find yourself repeatedly making the same type of faux paux, it may be in your own best interest to seek professional help," Cohen advises. "You can learn to improve your communication skills and/or problematic behavior and acquire stronger, more adaptive tools for success."


Allison Cohen, MA, MFT, reviewed this article.



Baumeister, R, Bratslavsky, E, Finkenauer, C, Vohs, K. "Bad Is Stronger Than Good." Review of General Psychology, 2001; 5(4);323-370 Web. accessed 6 Aug 2013.