First Impressions Take 7 Seconds. Hard to Reverse. Why You Care. Tips To Try.
First impressions are quick and hard to change. Studies show that, as time went on, snap judgments about “attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness” did not change; and, the only thing that did change was that the judger’s first impressions got even stronger.
Some studies suggest it happens in 30 seconds, 2–3 seconds, .1 seconds… In much of the research I looked at, though, on average it is 7 seconds — sometimes before you have even opened your mouth.
The first impressions, per se, have been found to last about a month or longer. However, because they set the tone for everything that comes after they are formed, the effects can be enduring.
Table of Contents
How First Impressions Happen
From Kara Ronin’s work on this topic:
You’re walking down the street. You see somebody walking toward you from the opposite direction. It’s a woman. You notice her clothes. She’s wearing an expensive looking suit and is impeccably groomed. She takes large strides and walks fast. You think to yourself, “she must have an important job, she’s probably a powerful woman”. You can imagine her being the leader of a large office and living in a big house. You’ve imagined all of this without that person saying a word!
In this hypothetical, your mind noticed her clothes and her body language, and then your mind made assumptions.
And, if you ever actually meet the person across the street, everything will be filtered through that positive or negative first impression you formed.
Observable traits that feed into these first impressions include:
– nonverbal communication, or body language
– physical features
– clothing, accessories, and hairstyle
– voice and speech
– surrounding environment, like their office or home
Maybe you think people really should stop doing this to each other and that, if other people don’t stop, fine, it’s not our problem what they think. Why should we care? Here’s why.
Why We Care
From an earlier post, “Yes It Does…Matter What Other People Think of You”:
Well, for one thing, it is about our very survival! That’s why we care. Back in the day, millions of years ago when the modern human brain was forming, social connection and reputation mattered — a lot — so much that now this normal human characteristic of ours is probably stuck in the brain and our being for good.
In Civilization and Our Discontents, Freud talked about the need to keep up with society’s rules and regulations. Caring about what other people think about how we live helps us to behave in ways that help us to reap the many benefits of group acceptance, even if, and especially if, it does take the fun out of our instinctual drives sometimes.
And, my fav on this topic is Sartre, who talks about “the look of the other.” From my book, “Getting to G.R.E.A.T.”:
It is a common misperception that “Hell is other people” means that other people are hell and we should avoid their toxicity. What Sartre really meant, in his own words, is this: “Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. . . . But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people.”
So…. It is not only okay to care what other people think — it is outright human. Caring about what other people think has not only helped us to survive and to thrive for millions of years, it is right here helping us now. Let’s just own it already so we can manage it for good.
Do’s and Don’ts
A compilation of some Dos and Don’ts from the articles hyperlinked above include:
– Dress and Groom: Dress and groom to send a message. Remember that this picture of you in someone else’s mind’s eye speaks louder than 1000 words. Make sure the picture you create really is saying what you want it to say about who you really are.
– Smile in 1st 7 seconds: Not a phony forced smile. Make eye contact and mean it, to convey altruism, and to offset impact of any excesses of confidence or aggression you feel you might portray. Look at the guy in the picture with this post. Would you want to work with or have coffee with that guy? Then again, if you do want people to feel intimidated, fine then don’t smile.
– Speak Slowly: More measured speaking helps you to seem more intelligent and confident, and also helps other to understand what you are saying.
– Body Language: Manage your posture. Take up space, shoulders back, head high, again, good eye contact…can not only help you to appear more confident in work and social settings, but can actually increase you own internal sense of confidence too.
Now I want to add or qualify something…
– You Do You: Some of the above are easy enough to experiment with. And, some or all of it is just entirely not you, which would kind of defeat the purpose.
That purpose, seems to me, is not to create a wicked case of Imposter Syndrome — but rather to help people get you as right as possible from the get go.
You Do You, and in the other direction try this: Greet each person like you are meeting them for the first time, so you are not boxing them into your previous snap judgments and assumptions either. See what happens, and let us know what you think in the comments below.