Monday, July 6, 2009

First Impressions

There was a T.V. commercial for a shampoo that ran quite some years ago with the tag line, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression". Truer words have never been spoken. I find it simply amazing how quickly I form an opinion of someone from my first encounter with them. It can be based on how they look, how they dress, their mannerisms or body language, their smile, their attitude, and I'm quite sure on dozens of other things of which I'm not even fully conscious. I have been pondering lately how my first impressions hold up over the long run. If I have an initial positive impression of someone, does it sustain itself over the long term? Do negative first impressions soften or melt away as I get to know someone? It's funny, but it seems the opinions that I form in just a few moments of meeting someone, by mechanisms that I can't begin to quantify, hold up over time. In fact, they seem to be reinforced time and again whenever I interact with them. In other words, if I think somebody is a jerk when I first meet them, this notion is not dispelled with further encounters. If I find someone to be interesting and worth investing in at first meeting, then this stands up. I have run things over and over in my mind and there are only a small number of people that I have changed my mind about over the years. I have a number of friends that caution me to keep an open mind about people, get to know them and understand that on first meetings, some folks are nervous and edgy or overdetermined to please. Maybe they have just had a bad day or are suffereing from indigestion. Who knows? Certainly they would caution that we should not form lasting judgements of people until we know them and understand them.

Cognitively, I understand this point of view, and I appreciate it. I really do. However, that part of me that forms the immediate opinion based on the first impression, somehow happens outside of my conscious control. Also, I would be less hesitant about changing my ways or even re-examining my approach if I was often wrong with my initial findings. After all, who am I to question my own human progamming?