It’s not fair! You’re right—it’s not fair, but first impressions begin before you even get to hello. Do you ever look at something and eventually realize it was not as it appeared? Do you look at people and draw quick conclusions about who they are? You most certainly do—we all do.
“From the first word you hear a person speak, you start to form this impression of the person’s personality,” according to University of Glasgow psychologist Phil McAleer.
As I prepared to speak at a men’s conference, I walked around the room introducing myself. Sharing a smile and a handshake I am hoping to break the ice and warm up the crowd. This is the first night—this will set the tone. With three more sessions to follow, a few welcoming smiles would make the journey easier.
As I reached out to one gentleman the first thing I noticed was his t-shirt. “USC” emblazoned across the front. Living in Southern California, I have come to appreciate the pride of the USC faithful. My eyes drawn to his t-shirt, I glanced by the fact he was seated in a wheelchair. But I had drawn a few conclusions.
“When someone meets us, or sees us for the first time, their senses (mostly the eye) take in so many cues at the unconscious level in the first three seconds that it is difficult to dislodge them. The impression is so vivid, even before we open our mouth and start talking, that it takes 30 seconds to add 50% more to that first impression. Then it takes 3 minutes to add 50% to that, and then 30 minutes to add 50% to that 3 minute impression, and so on – to 3 hours and 3 days.”
On Saturday night, after my third session, I walked into the conference center where the men were gathered around tables playing cards and eating snacks. As I began to walk out, there he was—still wearing the same USC t-shirt.
I walked over and asked him whether he was simply a fan or a graduate. The door opened as he began to share his story. Now approaching his 60th birthday, life had not turned out the way he had planned. But he found himself at the conference beginning to embrace the power of saving grace and was excited to be starting a new race.
I connected in spite of myself. If I had only had the initial 30 seconds I would have missed out on an opportunity for impact. Our brains get in the way and unfortunately it is simply how our brains work according to Malcolm Gladwell. In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Gladwell describes it as “thin slicing”—a process of forming judgments and conclusions based on a very narrow “slice” of experience—guilty!
People have sized you up, categorized you and drawn deeply seeded conclusions about you at “hello.” It’s not fair! But it is how our brain’s work. In that brief moment upon meeting someone they are immediately picking up on our warmth, humility, authenticity and generosity.
In the end, what we want people to really see is our heart. If we work on who we are from the inside, the impression on the outside will eventually catch up.