First impressions are powerful, but there’s at least three limits.
I’m a believer in first impressions.
When it comes to meeting people, I’m more than happy to go with my gut.
There’s a lot of wisdom (and pies) in my gut.
And I think we tend to undersell this ‘supernatural’ side of ourselves. We dismiss it in others as being ‘judgemental’ and we don’t trust it in ourselves.
I think it’s because we can’t really explain it and we live in an age where we look down at things that can’t be explained by science.
But I don’t really understand how electricity works, but that’s not going to stop me using it.
And I’m old enough now, I’ve been around the block a few times, to know that it works. I don’t really feel like my first impressions have ever led me up the garden path. I’ve done a lot of deals with a lot of people. I think I know pretty quickly how they’re going to play out.
And my bank balance bears the scars from when I haven’t listened to that nagging voice in my gut.
And the science actually backs me up on this one. The first impressions we get, in the first milli-seconds of meeting someone tend to be pretty accurate. That is, after hanging out with someone for a couple of hours, our later impressions match pretty closely with our first impressions.
And my faith in first impressions is based on two things:
1. We’re hard-wired for it. Apparently we size up likability and friendliness before anything else – gender, hair colour, anything. Why? Because once upon a time a lightning quick ability to tell friends from foe would have saved your life.
And so we have some of the most central circuitry in our brain devoted entirely to understanding people quickly. Brains are powerful things. They often make mistakes, but there’s a lot of energy devoted to helping you size someone up quickly.
2. You can’t fake it. Well, not easily. You can practice a broad smile and a power hand-shake, but there are just too many windows into the soul to control them easily or for long.
That little look in the eye. The slight waver in the voice. The slight hunch in the shoulders. That particular choice of words. All of these things give you an insight into someone’s fundamental character.
And there’s a part of your brain going over them with a fine tooth comb.
Of course, like anything, there’s limits to this idea. I know it in myself… I can get a sense of when my first impressions are going to give me a false flag.
Like pretty girls. I’m a sucker for a pretty face. And I know that someone’s a little easy on the eye, I tend to over-state their competence and trustworthiness etc.
That’s just some hardwired baggage I have to deal with. But I’m on to it. I can catch myself and make sure I’m making a good decision.
And I know the limits of first impressions. I think they’re a good gauge of wether I’m going to get along with someone, and whether they’re going to be trustworthy or a good worker. But I know impressions don’t extend into technical skills. I’ve got no idea if someone’s going to be a competent programmer or flashy designer just by meeting them.
I know the limits.
The other trap that’s interesting I think is when there’s a disconnect between someone’s experience of themselves, and reality.
I mean, I once hired a guy who really seemed like the bees-knees. He sold himself as a top-notch salesman. He had all the skills, all the experience, and my gut was telling me he was going to be awesome.
I almost gave him a raise on the spot.
But he wasn’t. In fact, he was kind of useless. Sometimes he was great, but he was all over the place. When he was on he was on, but when he was off he was way off.
And he was off more than he was on.
But the thing was, he didn’t see it. In his mind, he was awesome, and he was consistently delivering outstanding results. If I tried to pull him up on it, then I didn’t understand his process, or I didn’t value independent thought, or I was jealous of his skills.
And when I’d point to concrete examples of where he’d dropped the ball, then there were all sorts of beautiful excuses. Each failure had an easy explanation – all of which had nothing to do with him.
He just couldn’t (or refused to) see that the common denominator in failure was him.
And so he made a good impression. Because he genuinely believed that he was awesome – and it came through in the way he held himself.
Of course there were warning signs in hindsight (13 jobs in 7 years) – but none of these showed up in the first impressions.
And so when I read all this stuff about how to make a good impression, I just think, what’s the point? Unless you’re a phenomenal actor, you’ll never pull the wool over people’s eyes.
So my advice is just be a good person. If you put the work into the fundamental character, then that’s what will shine through. And if you’re loving and accepting of yourself, then it will show that you’ve got nothing to hide.
And if you drop all these ‘strategies’ for getting people to like you, you’ll be relaxed, open and friendly – and, ironically, very likeable.
So relax. Enjoy yourself.
There’s some advice you can live by, hey?
Do you trust your first impressions?