Relationships strengthen and weaken based on interactions the brain catalogs into three buckets: non-verbal evaluations, voice and tone, and selected words. Therefore a strong first impression goes a heck of a long way toward launching a solid relationship. A weak first impression is very difficult to overcome
Researchers at NYU, Stanford, Tufts, and NYU have drawn several helpful connections to help us better understand how the brain makes 11 rapid-fire decisions within the first three to seven seconds of meeting someone new.
As technology evolves and exchanges become more digital and depersonalized, it’s more important than ever to know how to make a good first impression when we do meet someone in person. However convenient, technology can be more hindrance than help, because first impressions are most heavily influenced by non-verbal cues.
Those ultra-important non-verbal signals are four times as powerful as words, which means making a good impression is far easier in person than over the Internet.
The formation of first impressions comes from flashpoint conclusions drawn from two areas of the brain. One links to our regulation of emotion; the second is where we make financial decisions and assign values on outcomes. Both encode and process selected data.
These two circuits process what they see and hear like calculators, rating what they experience based upon a series of personal preferences and filters. Then the two blend results to provide us a score. That score is a first impression. Humans have operated this way since the dawn of man — early man’s survival depended on a quick read of another as friend or foe.
Neuroscientists peg most brain processing stopwatches at a range from three to seven seconds. Nearly everyone forms first impression in less than a half-minute.
After that, opinions are slow and difficult to change. Growing familiarity can change them, but a negative first impression creates a reluctance to engage long enough (or often enough) for us to want to draw a second. It’s this lack of new information that hinders a change because there simply are not enough new or different data points to draw a different conclusion. Change is hard, so many don’t do it.
When teaching, I sometimes ask the class how long it takes them to decide if a first date will ever result in a second. For women, the range is five to ten minutes. Men are blind optimists; they think their “show” will work better as the night goes on. Rarely does it.
Scientific evidence is virtually unanimous that we rely much more on initial opinions than later information because what we see first represents the truth. Impressions are therefore quick to form but slow to change. Whether that’s fair or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the process is very much part of human nature.
Keys to a creating a first impression are a smile — which can be seen and noticed from 100 feet away — a warm handshake, clothing, grooming, eye contact, and, surprisingly perhaps, how happy and well balanced the person is. A happy, grounded, positive person tends to radiate that internal contentment in a way that creates a positive impression on others.
In other words, a person who’s happy on the inside tends to display him or herself as happy on the outside. These people are “whizzywigs” — What You See is What You Get. In a world of situational actors, whizzywigs are a breath of pure oxygen.
First impressions extend beyond just fact accumulation, processing, and filtration through lenses of expectation. As importantly, we project our conclusions forward in anticipation of how likely someone is to react to hypothetical situations. We flash forward to future behavioral projections. Some, we decide, we like and trust; others we do not.
First impressions are tough to change because, once formed, people typically do not look to change an existing conclusion. What we look for after forming that first impression is validation, not contrary evidence. Since we tend to find in life what we look for, people who look for validation tend to find it. Change comes more slowly. This means that more often than not we have some work to do if we want to change someone’s existing impression.
Demeanor, mannerisms, dress, and body language (including posture) are all parts of a first impression. So are a warm smile and sincere, respectful handshake.
Master the art and you’ll increase your “Q factor” (your likeability). Do that and your sphere of influence will grow in all good ways.
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