It takes less than 10 seconds to form the first impression! Though we say it a million times, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and read volumes of books on rational thinking, cognitive decision-making, cost-benefit analysis, etc.
Whether we acknowledge and agree or not, and however irrational it may sound, the matter of fact is that human beings are JUDGING MACHINES!
People decide instantly whether the other person is trustworthy, attractive, likeable, competent etc., without exchanging a single word with them! SUCH AGILITY IN DECISION-MAKING IS PERHAPS ONE OF THE BIGGEST SURVIVAL SKILLS HUMAN BEINGS ARE GENETICALLY EQUIPPED WITH! People call it instinct, gut feeling, sixth sense, intuition, etc. Psychologists call the phenomenon - snap decisions, rapid cognition, and thin slicing. As compared to the instinctual fight or flight response that occurs when we are under stress, rapid cognition is the ability to dig deeper into the brain and gauge what is important and help make quick decisions.
Think of the last time you felt instantly drawn towards someone because you found the person appealing, friendly, cheerful, or honest or chose to instantly avoid someone since you felt he/she was intimidating, rude, creepy, etc. Does it matter? It depends, on the size of the stake, and the opportunity lost or gained! You could have met a potential employer, business partner, client etc.
Consider the story of Nolan Myers, Harward alumni, who came from a middle-class family and grew up in Houston, went to attend a party organized for former Microsoft interns. Steve Ballmer, the C.E.O. of Microsoft, gave a speech on occasion. When Ballmer finished talking about aligning the company in specific directions, Myers raised his hand and asked him a question. Soon after, Ballmer sent one of the recruiters to Myers to get his email, and as per the information, Ballmer wanted Myers to join Microsoft.
Out of so many people, the question is, why did Ballmer choose to connect with Myers? He only had a glimpse of Myers. In that moment, his mind captured Myers in action, and he liked Myers, even though he knew nothing about Myer. What made the difference was – The First Impression!
The Power of First Impression!
Research indicates that people form an opinion about others in a fraction of a second! They respond intuitively to faces so quickly that the reasoning mind may not get time to influence the response. It is as if WE ARE HARD-WIRED TO DRAW INFERENCES in a fast, adaptable and unreflective way. Malcolm Gladwell, author of best-selling book Blink, calls the part of the brain that jumps to take such decisions the‘ collective unconscious, which, similar to a giant computer, quickly & quietly processes a lot of data and does a thousand computations to help us quickly decide on questions like- should you approach or avoid the other person? Is s/he a friend or enemy? What are the personal characteristics of the person?
Here's the scary part - our snap judgements are reasonably accurate and do not change easily. Several studies and experiments performed by Professor Nalini Ambady of Tufts University, Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School, Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov from Princeton confirm the above. According to some cognitive scientists, it takes 200 times to change the first impression! This might sound as an exaggeration, but the reason behind the statement is that once people form an opinion about someone, they start looking for clues to confirm their judgment. In Psychological terms, it is called ‘Confirmation Bias’. For example, if you formed an opinion that a person is rude; you might (unconsciously) start paying attention to the person’s actions that firm up your belief and ignore the actions that prove otherwise. Several experiments have proven the above assumption.
Create it right - the ‘First Time’!
Never leave your First Impression to Chance. Especially when the stakes are high, after all, not the most qualified person, but the person who makes a perfect First Impression walks away with the job and steals the deal.
Since you know such judgments are being made, and it is only prudent to prepare for the variety of interactions you may encounter to increase the chances of creating the impression you wish to make.
1. Work on your appearance: As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Wear a suitable look to cast the image that best represents your personality and conveys the statement you wish to make. For instance, in a business context, a formally dressed person in graceful attire, not only looks appealing to the eyes but also appears sincere & pragmatic. On the contrary, a casually dressed person might be perceived as shabby, non-conformist, disingenuous & careless.
In an experiment, simulated employment interviews were conducted, and it was found that ‘good grooming’ of applicants accounted for more favourable hiring decisions than did their ‘job qualifications. The interesting aspect is that the interviewers felt that appearance only played a minor role in their choices.
Simply put, good clothes make people look attractive, which in turn creates an overall positive perception of the person. As per sociologists, attractiveness creates a 'halo effect', because people associate traits like kindness and trust with people they find attractive. People pay more attention to people they like and find attractive, are more forgiving towards them and even try to please them.
2. Wear the right Attitude: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” -Zig Ziglar
Your attitude shows through everything you do, and people pick up your attitude instantly. A positive attitude, even in the face of criticism or in the case of nerviness… can take you a long way.
A positive, caring, altruistic, can-do attitude can never go wrong. However, not every time a person is in an upbeat spirit, and more often than not you’ll be caught if you attempt to fake one. Take a deep breath, look at yourself, and look into your eyes. Is that the attitude you want to embody? Collect yourself; remember the last time you did something that made you proud, and take that attitude with you!
3. Express yourself well: People don’t like people who look ambiguous, mysterious, impassive and blank. Such people are often perceived as rude, egotistical, conceited, etc. since it leaves too many doubts in their minds.
A behavioural principle called the ‘expressivity halo’ explains the phenomenon. It implies that people who communicate in an expressive, animated fashion tend to be liked more than difficult-to-read people, even if they're expressing something such as frustration and anger because we see them as less of a threat and feel confident in our understanding of them. No wonder it's often said, “a known devil is better than an unknown angel”.
Be open and communicate expressively. Remember, people only respond to what they perceive of you.
4. Similarity begets familiarity: We tend to like people we have something in common. We feel an instant connection, a sense of familiarity and find it easier to interact with them.
Try to find a focal point, a common area of interest, a place both of you would have stayed, a book, a movie, a sport…anything. We increase our persuasive powers as soon as we establish something about ourselves that others will identify with.
5. Learn to listen: One of the most sincere forms of respect is listening to what another has to say. Bryant H. McGill
When you listen to another person attentively, it shows you care about them, what they are saying is important to you, and that creates a lasting positive impression in the other person’s mind.
To listen well, you need to stop talking first! Bring your head and heart to the conversation, pay attention to what the other person is saying rather than anticipating what he/she is going to say next and thinking about what point are you going to make, be fully present there and stop your mind from wandering somewhere else.
6. Manage your Body Language: Our body speaks volumes about our personality and behaviour. People constantly read and are read by people, and most of it happens subconsciously. A certain way of looking, biting of lips, folding arms, etc. may trigger a response based on some past experiences.
According to Albert Mehrabian, we are perceived in three ways:
i. 55 per cent Visually (body language)
ii. 38 per cent Vocally (tone of voice)
iii. 7 per cent Verbally (spoken words)
It is a good idea to be cognizant and conscious about getting our body language right. Use head to toe approach to perform a quick check, beginning with frown lines on the forehead, eye contact, facial expression, body postures, the position of arms and legs, etc.
7. Never underestimate the power of a smile! A Smile portrays you as happy, confident and accepting. A smile shows that you are pleased to be where you are and are glad to meet the other person. The person, in turn, reciprocates similar interests.
It has been shown that sales representatives who smiled during the sales process increased their success rate by 20 per cent.
Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. -Leo Buscaglia
Never shy away from smiling, it's free, but it can earn you a great First Impression!
First impressions are incredibly crucial, especially in business interactions. You can’t stop people from making snap judgments since our brain is hardwired to do so, all you can do is be aware and try to make work it in your favour. Despite the fact that First Impressions are created without conscious thought, it is unclear how brain thin slices and executes rapid cognitions to make snap judgments. Yet it is worth the effort to make conscious efforts to create the perfect First Impression!
Our rapid cognition is fairly accurate at times, however, it is possible for us to misread someone the first time we meet. Thankfully, the first impression is not necessarily the last impression. As time passes and we get to know people, we tend to develop a more rounded opinion about them.
Emotional Intelligence skills play an integral role in helping us create a great First Impression & be cautious of the biases that may impair our judgments as we make snap decisions. The rational mind can overcome a first impression, but only if we get another chance…
- By Preeti Dubey (Masters in Psychology, MBA)
Founder, Director, STRIVE HIGH Strategic Training Solutions, www.strive-high.com
Preeti delivers training in the development of Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, and Personal Development and regularly writes on the topics.
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