We’ve all done it. We’ve walked into a room, noticed a complete stranger minding their own business and made a snap judgement based on their appearance or demeanour. The likelihood is you’ll have probably been on the receiving end of being judged on that basis too, but why do we do it?
Why do we judge others based on such little information?
Within the first few seconds of meeting someone, we have formed our first impressions – some research has even suggested it can take as little as a tenth of second to make up our mind on someone. From a handshake, to their appearance, judging someone is normal and expected behaviour – and often, we don’t get it right. Without this innate psychological process, we would have little information to use to guide us to make decisions as to whether someone may pose a risk to us or not. However, although making snap judgements has an adaptive survival function, it can actually lead to us making incorrect decisions about someone and potentially missing out on all sorts of opportunities and connections.
Why we get it wrong
These initial impressions can be misguided by a variety of factors such as our past interactions with others, the media and our unconscious biases. From the new starter at work, to a potential business client, there have been times when your initial judgement has been incorrect. Our unconscious bias results in judgements of others based on the way that our life experiences have shaped our perceptions of others. To an extent, it’s ok to do make judgements like this and in fact, we have no control over this because these are automatic thoughts, but we must remain aware that there is always more to someone than meets the eye.
More often than not, the initial image that someone attempts to portray of themselves isn’t necessarily a reflection of who they are, in fact it can be a mechanism for protection. For example, the person who presents as strong and confident is often vulnerable and insecure, but they present in this strong confident way to protect themselves from having that vulnerability exposed. The reason they do this is simply because it is too difficult for them to process. Similarly, someone who may appear quiet and insecure, might actually be a very secure individual, so secure that they don’t need to fill the room with chatter to feel comfortable.
Making the best first impression
The way that we dress and our full aesthetic, undoubtably has the ability to influence how we feel inside and consequently impacts on our presentation and demeanour. It evokes a certain persona of ourselves that others will then use to form a judgement upon. For example, for some women when they wear heels, they feel empowered and more confident. We all have a style of clothing that helps us to channel our inner superwoman, feeling stronger, more confident and powerful as we strut into the room. Conversely, when you don’t feel comfortable in your appearance for whatever reason, you can feel insecure, vulnerable and more cavewoman than superwoman.
When you are going into a professional meeting, ensuring that you feel like the best version of yourself will give you the inner confidence to focus on doing what you do best, ensuring that people are able to judge you correctly based on how you present yourself, rather than purely on how you look.
Although we can do little to override our innate psychological response of making impulsive judgments on others, within such a short timeframe, we can make a conscious effort to challenge those initial thoughts. By engaging in conversation and asking questions that tackle your preconceived ideas, it can offer an opportunity to revisit those initial thoughts. Ultimately, the effort we put into that, will be largely based on how important we believe the relationship will be, but it does enable us to consider overruling our first impressions, or at least confirming it!
Creating the best first impression
- Smile – It might seem a bit cliched but greeting someone with a genuine smile and by maintaining an appropriate amount of eye contact, creates a strong and positive foundation to build conversation and interaction on.
- Be open – Standing with arms crossed, or eyes down scrolling through your phone, aside from being incredibly rude, does not look engaging or approachable.
- Be comfortable – Whatever the appropriate dress code for the occasion, make sure you are wearing something that you feel good in.