When we meet someone for the first time, we very quickly make an assessment as to whether we like them, trust them, want to work with them or want to do business with them.
This assessment is made on a raft of factors. Many of which are quite superficial.
It might be a glance, their handshake, what they wear, their demeanour, whether they maintain eye contact and how they smile.
In fact, it’s said we have somewhere between 7 to 15 seconds to make a first impression face-to-face. That’s little more than the blink of an eye.
This is based on what is known in psychology terms as ‘thin slicing’. Professor Frank Bernieri of Oregon State University has found we assess people relatively quickly, without a lot of data.
As we do this, we are determining if we like a person and whether we see them as with us, or against us, and as part of our tribe or not.
Amy Cuddy in her book Presence: bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges recounts how the first impression is based on us trying to answer two questions:
- ‘What are this person’s intentions toward me?’
- ‘How strong and competent is this person?’
In doing this, she says, we are judging firstly, how warm and trustworthy the person is, and secondly, whether or not we think they’re capable of enacting their intentions. She also explains that these two trait dimensions are what make up 80 to 90 percent of an overall first impression – regardless of culture.
Often, we are also searching for similarity. When we meet a person and they seem ‘like us’ it makes us feel more comfortable. However, searching for similarity has its dangers because it means we can quickly close ourselves off from people with different backgrounds, experiences and ideas.
How do you overcome this trap?
Firstly, be aware that it is happening. When you meet someone for the first time remind yourself of the fact that your brain will be making an assessment, and that first impressions aren’t always accurate.
Secondly, be willing to suspend judgement and be curious about the person and their background. The more you are open to getting to know someone, the more you will find that point of commonality you are searching for. As well, you are likely to learn more about yourself because of the interaction.
Thirdly, recognise that this isn’t easy and it will take practice. It can help to have someone – a close friend, partner or colleague – who can challenge you in this regard.
Fourthly, embrace the learning that comes with meeting people from all walks of life and experiences. Their ideas and experiences may well challenge your assumptions and expectations, and that’s good for learning, development and growth.
As American Author, Wayne Dyer, said: “Judging a person does not define who they are. It defines who you are.”
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.
Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact [email protected].