Connecting & First Impressions

So much of life’s joys are because of our relationships with others. In fact, we humans depend on social connections to survive – it’s a basic need just like food, water and shelter. Even if we don’t feel like being a ‘people person’, we are required to be sociable on a fairly regular basis, and, well…that’s not always easy. This month’s blog series will focus on our connections; how to build (or rebuild) them, and why they are so important.

You only make one first impression

Have you ever met someone whom you initially didn’t like at all, only to ‘discover’ later that they were actually pretty awesome? There’s good reason for that, and it happens to everyone. It’s more likely that they were awesome all along, but we formed such a strong negative first impression of them that we didn’t allow for them to be awesome. Those first moments with someone new are very impactful, and there’s a wealth of research out there to support just how important first impressions are. Within a fraction of a second, we can make a judgement about someone, and on average, we take seven seconds to form our full impression. That’s not a lot of time for something so important! Don’t forget too that they do the same with us. What’s more alarming is the fact that once we’ve formed that initial opinion, it takes a long time to disprove it, if at all, even if we are completely wrong. Our brain is wired to want us to be right about our judgements of others, meaning that those first impressions are going to stick around for a while. So, what can we do to make our first encounters better?

Follow the golden rule

When in doubt about social skills or relationships, it’s always good to fall back on the ‘golden rule’ and treat others the way we wish to be treated, with authenticity and compassion. From there, we can build on our relationships and work to improve them. With any skill in life, we have to take the time to learn, practice and hone it – and the same goes for getting to know others and being sociable. Although some people are more comfortable in social settings than others, it’s not something that we are born with; it’s learned. Here are some key tips to nail that first (and subsequent) encounter with others so we can get on track with building relationships:

  • Be present and attentive – ignore distractions (including the cell phone)
  • Smile – or at least be aware of facial expressions and avoid frowning
  • Learn (and remember) names – we feel more valued and respected
  • Ask questions – but keep the topic light at first, such as movies, food, books or hobbies
  • Listen and don’t interrupt
  • Don’t compete – we don’t need to be better, smarter, or cooler
  • Be genuinely interested in other people and what they have to offer

It’s always important to be open-minded, and that includes being tolerant and unbiased when forming impressions about others. Even when someone looks, dresses, or speaks ‘a certain way’ which causes us to formulate our opinion of them, the odds of us being wrong are very good. We simply don’t have all the information, and we need to step back, take our time and look at the whole picture. We can pretty much all agree that everyone deserves a second chance to form a good first impression.

“We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility.” – Malcolm Gladwell