Sometimes you really do need to look twice or three times to see the person behind the tattoo or the lion in the sheep’s skin. It takes just one-tenth of a second for us to judge someone and make our first impression, and our confidence in impression formation increases with the time taken to form the impression. Not only do we take milliseconds to work out what something is when we first see it, but we also decide whether or not we like it!
Two things reminded me of the power of initial impressions, a recent poll on LinkedIn suggested that 25% of people make a decision in an interview in the first few minutes of the interview. Then a candidate who planned to call the Chief Executive of an organization he was applying to was taken aback when I said ‘you never get a second one chance to make a first impression routine’. He was really amazed. It had not occurred to him that this casual conversation could have a decisive effect on his career.
Given that people are forming impressions of us all the time, not just in interviews but in meetings, in the corridor, when we meet a new colleague, manager of a partner; we need to be aware of the fact that our LinkedIn profile, our telephone call or our CV all project an image of what we are like. ‘Your reputation goes before you is another truth’ we should not ignore.
Many of us are acutely aware of the fact that our audiences do form first impressions and there is a mass of advice out there about smiling, firm handshakes, and shiny shoes.
There is much less advice on how to improve our own ability to make those snap judgments successfully and accurately. Gladwell in his book ‘Blink’ says that these primitive (and very useful) abilities to size up a person (enemy or friend) very quickly can be both educated and controlled and that when they go awry they go wrong for a specific and consistent set of reasons.
We can start to identify what those reasons are by understanding our own prejudices, to challenge in the moment our own thought processes. We can train ourselves to suspend judgment, not to label or categorize in those first 7 seconds. We can train ourselves to really listen to the person we are meeting, to see the world from their shoes, to find common ground, and to build empathy.
We can objectively try to compare the data with our real experience. Consider the person in a different light ‘if this person was smaller what would I be thinking? If this person did not have tattoos, what would I be thinking? If this person was already my employee what would I be thinking…’
To take action and make unexamined decisions on those first impressions maybe to dismiss someone who can have real value in your life, to attach to someone who quickly turns out to be able to bring less value than you initially thought, or even worse who has a destructive and negative impact on you. Keep learning and keep challenging yourself to overcome your preconceptions and prejudices. And keep perfecting those smiles and shiny shoes… they may count for more than you think!