Beating the First Impression – The Science Behind and The Art to Win!

6 years ago Minds2Xcel 0

Your gripping handshake may not be interpreted as being assertive to the person receiving it. He or she may feel that you are intimidating. Saying “Thank You” may not necessarily send out the right vibes if it is relayed without the appropriate emotional ‘tags’ to go with the message. Research suggests that people are more positive towards someone in an interaction if they sense the person as being sincere and trustworthy.

In split second moment when you meet someone, the person is already gathering cues to start forming his implicit perception towards you, and you likewise on him. It takes between seven to fifteen seconds to create the first impressions. In my earlier blog, I mentioned that this impression created is a double-edged sword that can help you establish a good start to the social interaction, or make it difficult for you to establish the relationship.

Why do we create these impressions of each other? Research suggests it is a natural trait of ours to sieve out friend or foe for purpose of survival. It also helps us identify ourselves with a social group (the herd syndrome) we wish to belong to. This is classical social-psychological model of “in-group” and “out-group”, where we love those in the group, and dislike or prefer less of those outside of our group.

Furthermore we live in a social environment where there are existing and pre-existing implicit perceptions of each other, drawn along the lines of culture, ethnicity, gender and other categories of people we put them into. This is especially apparent within the global work and social environments that we are exposed to. In reality, we call discrimination. A member of a particular ethnic group may be seen as more superior than one from another origin; someone coming from a particular geography or country is treated with greater decorum against another from somewhere else; a leader or manager from a western culture is perceived as more successful and with higher aspirations; or that men are more capable as corporate leaders than women. This list of social categorisation (grouping people) goes on. Socially, wherever we are or whatever we do, we are living with different sets of social expectations defining the norms of values and acceptance on how we behave.



Can we come out of this victorious, instead of becoming a victim of circumstance? For some this means becoming a better person or professional, at work and with family. For some, it is winning this “game people play”. We surely can be more successful, and be of influence rather than a victim of our social environment. Whether you are driven by aspiration or other personal intent, I like to suggest the following for start:

  • Don’t deny it! – Don’t kid ourselves and let our chatter box (the voices in our minds) fool us into thinking this “should not be”. Impressions (leading the judgement) are implicit and real. It works in your conscious and subconscious mind, whether you like it or not. We may hide behind the veil of moral high ground to condemn this, yet we are equally guilty as anyone else. So be true to ourselves that this is part of our DNA.
  • Get feedback. Have a mentor – Or someone whom you trust to get genuine feedback from. How we see ourselves is not the same as how others see us. We need to calibrate and validate ourselves. Unfortunately as corporate people, we are starved of authentic feedback from our associates, except during performance management time.
  • Learn to know yourself – We often think we know ourselves well. I am not surprised when I found my ‘unknown’ in the Johari Window taking a relatively bigger space. Where is your moral compass pointing to? What is the strength of your Core? What are your value propositions? What personas (personal and professional) do you want in your roles, and what are you actually showcasing? The guide here is, “Be Authentic” – be what you are and uncover the bigger person in yourself. Increase your social awareness and enhance your circle of influence.
  • Learn the Art of Successful Behaviours – Learn the skills and techniques to leverage on your capacity, and develop to expand your capability. For example, you need to know how to create a more positive image of yourself through your presence, the way you behave and how you communicate. This is your brand. Just like leadership ability, it is a combination of nature and nurture. We may possess certain traits that predispose us to play the leader; nonetheless we need to learn effective ways to exploit the traits to bring the best out and become good leaders. Charisma comes from nature; true leadership is moulded through nurture.

In closing, I want to share a particularly interesting comment made by a senior executive I was coaching. His concern was, “Even as I know what I must do, how can I take personal ownership? I am my greatest enemy”. In truth, he is not alone in this. All of us face the challenge of fighting within ourselves to do what is right and good for us. We struggle with our mind-sets, ego and self-worth. I will be dealing with this topic in the next sharing blog.