Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Don't Underestimate the Power of First Impressions

We all heard the phrase, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  However, it is more powerful than most of us might think. Always “place your best foot forward” when making a first impression; otherwise, you will unfairly miss out on some great opportunities. At the very least, you are sure to “go down swinging.” 

Often, we make decisions based on biased perceptions because we do not always take in enough information to make sound decisions.  There are two main reasons for this: one, there is too much information in our environment causing “information overload.” Two, we “filter” out unwanted information selecting only information that confirms what we already know. This “selective listening” causes flawed or biased perceptions.

We like to think of ourselves as good people and consistent in that our behavior matches our values, beliefs, and attitudes.  As long as we have that “match,” we feel our decisions for the most part are good, and generally, we will stand by our decisions even if we had the chance to do them over again. 

When our behavior doesn’t match our beliefs—we slip into “cognitive dissonance.”  This dissonance causes us distress and disharmony triggering action to get the two back into harmony quickly.  We have at least two choices: we can change our thinking that is being threatened, or we can change our behavior. Reconciling dissonance affects first impressions in a big way.

In a job interview, the interviewer likely has perception biases too.  Given this assumption, she may instantly notice something unfavorable: your appearance, your dress, your handshake, or even the way you might answer the first question or two. More questions come and your responses may contradict her first impression; however, she won’t select that information because she already decided you will not be chosen; selecting contradictory information would cause her to have cognitive dissonance.

Amazingly, your answer on the 10th question is the only answer that confirms her earlier unfavorable impression and she immediately thinks, “Aha!  I knew I was right about you” thus, she is confident in her decision, and you unfairly missed out on an opportunity.

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