Instinct can be a powerful and useful guide – providing an early warning when something (or someone) doesn’t feel right. However, there are times when our initial reaction can be misplaced.
It’s suggested that it only takes seconds before we have sized someone up.
Research from psychologists at Princeton University, Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, found it only takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of someone we haven’t met before – purely on their facial expression.
This decision-making process – in psychology terms – is known as thin slicing. Professor Frank Bernieri of Oregon State University found we assess people relatively quickly, without a lot of data. It might be a glance, their handshake, what they wear, their demeanour, and how they smile. We very quickly determine if we like a person and whether we see them as with us, or against us.
American psychologist, Amy Cuddy, master of the Power Pose, found that in developing this first impression we are 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 comprise 80 to 90 per cent of an overall first impression – regardless of culture.
In a working context, we are assessing – Do I trust the person? Do I want to work with them? Do I want them to be part of my team?
How we categorise people doesn’t stop there. We also place expectations on people, based on the advice and opinions of others.
Research conducted many years ago by Psychologist Robert Rosenthal looked at the impact expectations can have on how teachers treat students and the resulting impact on the student’s performance.
In the experiment, teachers were told the names of students that were expected to do well throughout the year. These names, however, were picked at random. Consequently, the students selected were no brighter than the other students in the class.
And yet this random selection had a significant impact.
The research found the teachers treated the so-called ‘star’ students differently – they were more supportive and friendly. They were also more willing to spend time with them and provide them with feedback. Not surprisingly, their performance improved.
Expectations play out in the workplace all the time. You place hopes and assumptions on others – and likewise, they do the same to you. These expectations can hold you back from building effective relationships and embracing what’s new or perhaps different. And in doing this, you can miss out on insights and relationships that could be incredibly valuable.
It’s therefore important to critically examine and ask yourself:
- Where am I judging too quickly?
- Do I need to be more open-minded when I first meet people?
- Am I letting the opinions of colleagues cloud how I think and interact with other colleagues?
- Are my expectations constraining how I learn and lead?
- Am I holding onto a fixed mindset concerning people in my team? If so, is this hindering their development and performance?
As German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, once said:
The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.