Sunday, January 26, 2014

Are First Impressions That Accurate?

Maybe it’s just me – but I’ve been amazed at just how wrong first impressions actually can be and how judging people by them can often get you into a heap of trouble.
In the consulting space it’s a known fact that those employees who are most helpful when you first start a project are, more often than not, being helpful for their own hidden agendas, which mostly revolves around you ‘praising’ their support, dedication and ‘hard work’ to senior management – which helps make them look good. Where more often than not you soon find out these are the employees who are actually part of the problem on the ground.
And at the other extreme in those early days of a project, those employees who are your biggest detractors and who don’t accept the ‘consultants’ on face value, and really challenging your practical experience and what you can really do to help the organization – are more often than not the ‘projects champions’ at the end of the day.
This is just one of many instances when first impressions are the direct opposite of the ‘real’ person – where one is playing a game to appear supportive when they’re not; and the other is so committed to their organization that they are simply checking that you’re not going to waste their time (and the company’s time and money) in some ‘head-in-the-clouds’ venture.
Yet the first time you meet these people it’s easy to be fooled by the first impressions and get their personal commitment completely about-face.
Richard Branson, for example, in his book ‘losing my virginity’ stated that “in the same way that I tend to make up my mind about people within thirty seconds of meeting them, I also make up my mind about whether a business proposal excites me within about thirty seconds of looking at it. I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.”
Yet the alternate view suggests that; “I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong. You can look at a painting for the first time, for example, and not like it at all, but after looking at it a little longer you may find it very pleasing. The first time you try Gorgonzola cheese you may find it too strong, but when you are older you may want to eat nothing but Gorgonzola cheese. Your initial opinion on just about anything may change over time,” (from Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning).
It has been long asserted that people make up their minds about people they meet for the first time within two minutes. Others assert that these first impressions about people take only thirty seconds to make. But what’s interesting is that there seems to be little research and feedback on just how accurate our ‘impressions’ actually are.
It’s worth remembering from a psychological perspective that “the exaggerated impact of first impressions is related to the halo effect, that phenomenon whereby the perception of positive qualities in one thing or part gives rise to the perception of similar qualities in related things or in the whole. The halo effect is powerful, but it is questionable whether it matters much in long-term relationships, such as that between teacher and student, for example. While dressing up may predispose students to think the teacher must know his subject matter because he creates a professional first impression, the effect wears thin if the person turns out to be a poor teacher after all.”
Arthur Dobrin wrote that “first impressions matter but substance has the final word. If you had never seen or heard of Einstein, the first time you saw him your impression would most likely be negative. Now his face is associated with genius, not madness because he is the person who has come to define what genius is.”
As much as first impressions are important if you are sincere in giving them – as a receiver of a first impression you must be open to the fact that this first impression may simply be a cleverly crafted show made to impress – and not a true reflection of the person in front of you at all.
In business this is something you always need to be aware of.

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