Handbook For Creating and Living a Meaningful Life:Principle # 1– Power of “First Impressions” Be Ready.

Author’s note: From the Handbook for Creating and Living a Meaningful Life: 30+ Rules of the Road . This my first post and Principle #1 for creating a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

Meaningful Life Principle # 1 : Power of First Impressions. Be Ready.

Quote: “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression”.

Will Rogers , American Humorist

When interacting with others remember from the very first moment, people are taking the measure of you and you are creating an impression.  This observation is backed up by very good research on the astonishing speed at which people form first impressions of others, often in seconds. And, once formed, opinions can be difficult or impossible to change. In fact, people tend to seek out information that confirms their pre-existing impressions and block out information that doesn’t — the so-called “confirmation bias.” So think hard about the impressions you want to create. If you make a good first impression If you do, others will want to keep interacting with you and will work with you and help you to succeed. So always  “Be Ready” when opportunities in life are presented.

“If (a man) is brusque in his manner, others will not cooperate.  If he is agitated in his words, they will awaken no echo in others.  If he asks for something without having first established a (proper) relationship, it will not be given him.” Robert Bolton

The immediacy of first impressions and how they effective the decision to go forward in a conversation or a relationship has been called many things in the fields of Communication, Social Psychology and Psychology–power of first impressions, bias of confirmation, primacy effect, thin slicing etc. As a father, I tried to teach my boys the “power of first” impressions. My simple message was to look the person in the eye and give them a firm handshake. Now there is more research that confirms that it takes only a matter of seconds for a person to decide if they want to go forward with a relationship. As a matter of fact researchers have found that before you complete your answer to an interviewer’s first question (15 seconds) they have decided whether to hire you or not. WOW 15 seconds just about enough time for you to look them in the eye, exchange a firm handshake and ask them how their day is going. Is there any we can to do to overcome this powerful interpersonal law.

Until recently, little if any research  had been done about what happens when we first meet someone and yet somehow this advice had been handed down from generation to generation. Psychologist and interpersonal communication experts just ignored or took this axiom for granted. Research over the past decade, now confirms the power of the first impression. In a sense, those who gave you that advice were  correct –good eye contact and  a firm handshake may be all it takes to create a memorable first impression. These “moments of truth” can have significant implications in the friends we make, advice we receive from a doctor, the career opportunities we are open to and the person we will fall in love with and marry.

Professor Frank Bernieri of Oregon State University, and a colleague recently  collected a series of videotaped job interviews to test whether it is possible to guess the result of the interview simply from observing the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee. It was found  that an observer could predict whether or not the interviewee would be offered the job from watching just the first 15 seconds of the tape – the handshake, the “hello” and very little else. What happened in those few, brief moments was enough to determine if the candidate received an offer to be hired or not. This is the power of first impressions. “First impressions are the fundamental drivers of our relationships,” says Professor Frank Bernieri. He goes on to say “In a sense, … the initial conditions can have a profound impact on the eventual outcome.

A first impression is your initial contact and gauge for analyzing  and judging another human being. This power of “thin-slicing” methodology is based on the theory that we make a reasonably accurate assessment of a person from observing  just a few seconds, or a “thin slice”, of their behavior. From the evidence gleaned in not much more than a few glances, we decide whether we like another person, whether they’re trying to connect with us, and if they’re friend or foe. If you’ve ever changed seats on an airplane or train to avoid someone, because there was something “not quite right about them”, you’ve used your ability to thin-slice. In that instance, you were probably aware of a gut instinct – you may have felt as if your sense of perception was heightened because there was the possibility of something strange happening – but we thin-slice people in all kinds of situations, not just when we feel uneasy or threatened. Bar hopping to find a hookup is another common example of impulsive thin-slicing decisions. These early assessments that we make of people set us up to look for certain behaviors or non-verbal cues. This information is locked-in and sets us on a course of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If we have decided that a person is a certain type of person, who thinks, feels and behaves a certain way, we pay more attention to evidence that confirms our initial thoughts and supports our implicit impressions of this person. This cognitive phenomenon is known as the “confirmation bias”. For example, after meeting a business friend’s new partner you might decide they are a little removed and not engaging. From then on, you will be on the look out for other signs of what you see as arrogant or dismissive behavior. noticing when they talk only about themselves, their possessions such as cars or condo in Naples, or they are so self-centered they don’t inquire or  ask you or other people any questions about their interests or life situation. You won’t necessarily notice other more friendly or accepting gestures or comments because you have made your mind-up that are egotist.  We seek out the information that confirms we are right, and we ignore or discount evidence  that might suggest we are wrong or misguided about our snap judgment.

First Impression judgments and confirmation bias are at the heart of many recent works, including Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (see below) and Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. One thing all these writers and researchers agree on is that our ability for making such immediate judgments is largely unknowable, and when we begin to question exactly what it is that made us choose a certain way, we begin to second-guess ourselves, and get things wrong. The researchers have found that when people are asked to deliberate before they make a decision they tend not to be as good as they are if they do it unconsciously and quickly.

Although our rapid cognition is fairly accurate, it’s still possible for us to misread someone the first time we meet them. No matter how shrewd you might think you are  – we are subject to all kinds of cognitive biases, which stretch and distort our judgment. “There’s a classic study where participants are shown a short film of a woman coming home from work,” says Bernieri. “Sometimes the woman was labelled ‘Jane the waitress’, sometimes she was called ‘Jane the librarian’. After viewing the short film, researchers asked the viewers to relate what they’d seen, they ‘remembered’ details consistent with the woman’s job. If Jane had been introduced as a librarian, people remembered her wearing glasses, even though she hadn’t been.  Our assumptions about how a waitress might behave or the way a librarian might look are so strong that we pay more attention to them than the person or evidence in front of us. Indeed, our assumptions and expectations influence the way that we see and judge others.”For example, if I’ve heard from a client that you are a difficult person, then I might have already decided I’m not going to like you and the interaction will be difficult and stressful. Then, when I meet you, I’m going to behave in a more defensive and critical way towards you, which, in turn, is going to get you to behave in a difficult way towards me.”

Stay tuned on more about Creating and Living a Meaningful Life.



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