Wed | Aug 15, 2018

First Impression: Wisdom or Folly?

Published:Sunday | June 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Life is difficult and seems to get more so every day. We are stressed by the demands of our jobs, our families, and people we interact with daily, and we get bogged down. But before we get a new job and interact with different people, maybe all we need to do is change our approach.

This week, Outlook continues a new series, 'Change your Mindset, Change your Life'. With the help of certified behaviour-modification coach and author Trevor E. S. Smith, we will help you through some of the bumps and scrapes of life - to be more productive, deal with difficult people, and a host of other topics, with his insightful perspective and boost of confidence for life.

I confess to holding the view that infants are more adept at interpersonal relations than adults. We come into the world well-equipped to relate to each other, but our socialisation seems to move us off track and create interpersonal barriers.

Think of these scenarios:

Situation: Airport waiting room

Mindset: Children - gravitate. Adults - isolate!

Situation: 'War' duration: Adults- years. Children - minutes

Adults hold dear the statement 'First impressions are lasting.' This drills into our heads the idea that labelling others on the basis of the first few fleeting moments we meet them is acceptable. I may know you for 30 years, but should I always keep in mind the impression you made when we met? Wisdom or folly?

We find it easier to place others in nicely labelled cans for quick reference. Opening the can to see what is in it requires too much effort. If we appreciate how unstable the contents of the can are, we would realise that the label is meaningless and even distracting.

Another adult issue is that good manners require us to ask "What would you like to drink?," Yet we often ignore asking that when it comes to our interpersonal relations.

Have you asked your colleagues: "How would you like to be treated?" directly, as in "How would you like your coffee?"

We tend to prepare one 'bottle of me' and serve it to others. I have been taken to task for implying the creation of different blends to fit the taste of those with whom we interact. So our colleagues spend most of their waking hours sipping on our 'bottle of me', like it or not.

That is why mastering the language of behaviour is the key to achieving success with and through others. The secret is linked to the misused work of Karl Jung. In a radio interview with me, the host shared that he was led to see his psychometric test results as something of a box within which he had to operate.

Jung had shared that approaches to coping with life's unfolding events can be classified into four basic segments: dominance, inducement, steadiness and conscientiousness.




The real value is to recognise the classification as 'behavioural toolkits', not people.

Instead of feeling boxed in, we should appreciate the fact that we have access to four sets of tools to deal with any and all situations. There is a toolkit that works best in any given situation and the key is to select the appropriate tool.

Instead of paying attention to 'You are this label' or 'You are that label', we should focus on how to respond to the use of each toolkit. It is of limited value to think in terms of "I am ... " or "You are ... " because predicting with certainty what someone will do next is not possible.

A fundamental pillar of success in interpersonal relationships is to separate the behaviour from the person.

There is much more to be gained by reading behaviour than trying to 'read' people. Even the friendliest person can respond angrily because a traffic jam affects his mood. Similarly, a person who is quiet at work may be the life of the party in the evening.

We can never really know what others are thinking or what they are about to do. We can best observe their behaviour, and from those observations, work to offer an appropriate response.

In the end, it is simply wiser to focus on the behaviour. It is the behaviour that we have to deal with, anyway.

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- Trevor E S Smith is a behaviour modification coach with the Success with People Academy which is recognised by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for the SHRM-CPSM or SHRM-SCPSM Certifications. Joint venture partner Extended DISC/FinxS Caribbean. or Website: