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First Impressions: Authenticity Makes the Difference Between Success and Failure


Within the first few seconds of meeting someone new, we instinctively begin making judgments about them, and these judgments tend to endure even months after that initial meeting. This is, in part, due to a primacy effect—or a tendency for information that we learn first to be weighted more heavily than information that we learn later on.


The long-lasting impact of first impressions may motivate people to put their metaphoric best foot forward during those introductory interactions, particularly when stakes are high. For example, a budding entrepreneur aiming to secure funding for their company might exaggerate their clout and use more technical financial language in their pitch when trying to impress a venture capitalist (VC). However, recent research by Markowitz and colleagues suggests that people are more likely to positively perceive (like and feel more connected with) someone they just met if their language sounds authentic.


Whether you’re an entrepreneur trying to persuade a VC to invest in your startup, a CEO working to improve your company’s brand, or a job candidate wanting to impress your potential employer during an interview, how authentic you come across just might make the difference between success and failure.


What is linguistic authenticity and what does the research say about it?


It’s important to note that authenticity is not synonymous with honesty. Markowitz and colleagues illustrate this using the example of Donald Trump: although research suggests that Trump spread “false and misleading claims” throughout his presidency, he often expresses himself authentically (i.e., unreservedly and in a way that is consistent with his values).


A person is considered authentic when they present their true self and values, and this authenticity can be expressed through their everyday spoken and written language. That is, someone who comes across as authentic communicates more about themselves and their thoughts, and their language is more aligned to who they are as opposed to rehearsing a script.


To demonstrate how authentic language can inform first impressions in entrepreneurial settings, Markowitz and colleagues found that VCs or “sharks” on the popular television show Shark Tank were more likely to invest in entrepreneurs who incorporated greater authentic language in their initial pitch. What’s more, entrepreneurs whose pitches scored higher in linguistic authenticity were also perceived more positively as well as more authentic by human raters, further validating the linguistic measure as a reflection of authenticity.


In addition to predicting positive person perception and investment success, the same researchers found that greater linguistic authenticity predicted greater social engagement with audiences. TED talks higher in authentic language (relative to those lower) generated more views and comments. Likewise, more authentic Tweets posted by political figures were liked and retweeted more so than less authentic Tweets. These results provide practical implications for employer branding; for instance, by incorporating authentic language in social media posts, one may improve engagement with their brand and company.


If you’re interested in assessing the degree to which your language comes across as authentic, Receptiviti offers measures of linguistic authenticity as well as hundreds of other linguistic dimensions to assist with communication skills and strategies. Contact us to learn more.

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