Trevor E. S. Smith | First Impressions - should they really last?
"Wow! I used to think that you were...."
This is a phrase frequently used, as we grapple with the question of the impact of our socialisation on inter-personal relations. Does it enhance or impede it? Is our socialisation the equivalent of a bad weather forecaster? Or is it more like taking medication based on a wrong diagnosis?
The First Impressions Miscarriage
One of socialisation's tenets is "First impressions last". It is useful to encourage people to be on their best behaviour, however, if you drill it into my head that people are going to use the first minutes of meeting me to form a long-term impression of me, should I not do the same?
Is our socialisation not strongly and repeatedly encouraging us to use initial, potentially casual, and distracted interactions to make judgements about others and hold it for extended periods?
That is how we got to "When I first met you I thought you were ....."
We are encouraged to make judgements on insufficient information! Is that not an obstacle to effective interpersonal relationships?
The picture you see is just not me!
So many individuals are being frustrated beyond measure because they are placed into a securely wrapped box with a bold label on the outside, based on first impressions. One skilled professional laments that she is still treated like she was during her days as a trainee, years after that experience.
I must confess that when we reinforce those early images, it is difficult to blot them out of our minds. Parents might overuse 'baby talk' or fail to relate to their children in age-appropriate ways because of this hangover from the past. Holding on to what was can stifle the development of our relationships.
Marriages struggle because one partner fails to keep pace with the transition that is taking place with their spouse.
"But we have always" is why we must pursue new ways.
"But we have never" is why we need this new endeavour.
But you resist buying into this vision because you are stuck to that old edition.
Instead of continuing to drill this unwise mantra into the heads of young people, why not teach them that we are going to encounter people in different scenarios which might cause them to display different moods and mindsets?
You actually do not get to really know an individual until you have seen them in different situations over an extended period. If certain behaviour keep recurring, then you can start to form an impression of what the individual is like.
- Is this not more aligned to social intelligence?
- Is this not more realistic?
- Does this not offer a better understanding of human behaviour?
We have a choice - interact with others with a fixed view of what to expect from them, or develop the capacity to read and respond appropriately to their behaviour as it evolves. Expect versus detect? Which is more helpful?
"Listen Junior, we all observe others. Remember to always reflect our family values and to represent who we are. Sometimes you might get thrown off track. Work to get back on track quickly and strive to repair any damage.
The people you meet are also trying to put on their A-game. Like you, they might be having a bad day and miss the mark. Take that into consideration and withhold judgement until you learn more about them. We are complex beings and it takes time to truly know us, so avoid rushing to judgement.
'First impressions' guidance is well-meaning. However, there are healthier ways to encourage people to be at their best.
Thank you very much for the time that you spent with us last week - your intervention, with the DISC behaviours analysis, has produced excellent results! My newly recruited team now has a better understanding of how we fulfil each programme area using a cohesive and integrated approach. Thank you once again!
British Council Jamaica
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Trevor E. S. Smith is a Director of the Success with People Academy.