A first date is invariably a difficult situation. Both people feel insecure about what first impression they are making. Both feel the stress of a first encounter and worry about what to say and what to avoid. In addition, this stress might be compounded by the knowledge that nonverbal communication also plays a big role in the first impression created, as well as the decision to date the person again or not. If both parties are aware of the nonverbal clues that work best during a first date, this could help to enhance the experience for both people, because it can boost confidence and take some of the stress away from the first encounter.
Part of the stress of the first date and the nonverbal gestures that go with it resides in the fact that they are numerous and serve many purposes. Some nonverbal gestures, for example, serve to maintain attention, add clarity, and make memorable the content of speech (Knapp and Hall, 2009, p. 224). All these could be regarded as important during a first date.
Emotional expressiveness is also regarded as important during a first date. According to Riggio and Reichard (2008, p. 172), emotional expressiveness is particularly strongly communicated by means of nonverbal communication. Emotional sensitivity concerns the ability to interpret and respond to the emotionally expressive cues of others, while emotional control concerns the ability to hide any inappropriate emotion experienced at any particular time. Because the first date is primarily an emotional experience, filled with hopes and expectations, emotional intelligence forms a large part of nonverbal communication. Hence, it is important to be aware of the type of gestures and cues that might indicate appropriate or inappropriate emotion. On the other hand, it is also important to indicate that a person is comfortable with his or her emotion. Hence, a fine balance should be struck between the inappropriate display of strong emotion and the display of general human compassion and empathy.
Eastwick, Saigal and Finkel (2010, p. 344) note that not everybody has the "gift" of good first impressions, especially during stressful situations like first dates. For this reason, the authors conducted a study to determine the elements of nonverbal communication that are likely to make a good impression during a first date. Three dimensions of interpersonal behavior are identified, namely affiliation, autonomy, and focus. By means of a study on speed dating, the authors identified nonverbal behaviors to which partners responded favorably within these three dimensions. In investigating this, the authors identified behaviors that resulted in "smooth" dates and those that resulted in "awkward" dates. Those on smooth dates, for example, displayed a warm and other-focused attitude by means of nonverbal communication. Partners who maintained not only an appropriately warm attitude towards their respective dates, but also did not rely overly much on their partners to maintain the flow of a date, were rated most highly on the "smooth" scale. Hence, behavior that suggests independence rather than interdepence is highly valued.
With this in mind, the authors conclude that people on a first date should express themselves without too boldly indicating their independence, react warmly but no relying on the other partner to maintain the flow of the date, and finally maintain an active role in the conversation. Behavior that suggests boredom or "tuning out," for example would not be valued during a first date. It is therefore important to maintain a view of both positively and negatively perceived behaviors when on a first date.
Many of these behaviors also govern the all-important first impression when going out with somebody for the first time. Curhan and Pentland (2007, p. 802) focus on this aspect of first dates. Although the authors focus on job applicants and workplace interaction, the aspects of interaction the mention can be applied to the first date situation as well. First impressions are indeed as important during the dating situation as it they are in job interviews or other means of interaction. The authors use four categories to determine the most effective means of making a good first impression. The first of these is "activity."
Activity refers to the amount of time an individual speaks. Speech is accompanied by gestures. When these are animated and extended, it is assumed that the person is interested in the interaction. This can be a positive indicator of how a person experiences the occasion as well as the company. When a person is generally quiet, the impression might not be as favorable.
The second category is "engagement," which refers to the way in which individuals interact with each other. During a first date, an ideal conversation would consist of both parties engaging with more or less the same frequency, with little silence elapsing within the speech pattern. The energy with which questions are asked and answered will determine the amount of satisfaction that either partner experiences during the dating process, for example. The speed with which questions are answered, along with nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and excitement level, will provide an indication of the engagement level of the individual.
Emphasis is the third category (Curhan and Pentland, 2007, p. 804), which refers to the variation in speech pitch and volume. Stress, intonation, and rhythm are important aspects here, and can play a significant role in maintaining the interest level of the hearer. Along with engagement, this means that an impression is created regarding the interest level of the speaker. If the speaker's voice varies in terms of the element mentioned, it is assumed that the interest level is higher than that of a person who simply speaks to convey words rather than animating the meaning with voice variation.
The fourth category, "mirroring," could also serve a positive function during a first date. This, however, should not be done consciously, as it is easily overdone and could create a faulty impression. Instead, the authors suggest that the nonconscious mimicry of over behavior in others could serve an adaptive social function, or indicate empathy. To accomplish this type of behavior, the individual should be focused on his or her dating partner at all times, and attempt to create an inner sense of empathy without consciously attempting to cultivate this in the interaction itself. In other words, it should be a natural extension of other nonverbal behaviors and interactions between the partners. To demonstrate the positive perception of mimicking, the authors cite a study where waitress behavior was studied: mimicking customers' speech created positive outcomes in terms of higher tips. This could also translate to the dating situation. Mimicking is associated with mutual identification between partners, which can further enhance the dating relationship.
Another aspect of this is reciprocity, as explicated by Hendrickson and Goei (2009, p. 585). The authors note that reciprocity is probably the most consistent element of all favorable human interaction. During a first date, for example, researchers have found that a gesture such as a gift, drink, or meal is seen as a sign of attentiveness and would encourage a reciprocal agreement to a further encounter.
The authors in this specific case used buying a drink for a dating partner as a starting point for the reciprocity ideal. If a woman receives a drink from a man on a first date, for example, she may be more willing to accept further invitations for dating than might otherwise be the case.
Even before the first date, the man might buy a gift for a woman, such as flowers, which would precede the request for an initial date. The research in Hendrickson and Goei's document then suggests that the likelihood for compliance with the request for a date is more likely than otherwise.
The suggestion is then that there should be some sort of gift before or during the first date to create a favorable impression for further dates. The authors also suggest, however, that the date situation is somewhat unique in the context of social interaction. This phenomenon, for example, also relies on mutual attraction. When asking for a further date, then, an individual cannot rely solely on the indebtedness created by preliminary gifts. A prior attraction needs to be established as well.
Prior attraction is also determined by means of nonverbal as well as verbal cues. It is unlikely that a date request will be made when the two parties involved seem to dislike each other. Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and hand gestures while talking can provide an indication of like or dislike. When a woman smiles every time she sees a man, for example, it is more likely than not that she likes the man and will respond favorably to date requests. To increase the likelihood of compliance, a gift of sorts can be made prior to the date request or during the first date itself.
For this reason, the authors (Hendrickson and Goei, 2009, p. 588) suggest that reciprocal behavior is not necessarily as prominent in dating behavior as might be suggested at face value.…