It’s a pretty classic story; you attend a local business or service and received really, really bad service from the salesperson. This may be one that you’ve never met before, but they seem standoffish and not really interested in selling to you or helping you. You leave the location thinking about how bad your experience may have been. Then, while chatting over coffee with a friend you discuss your experience only to have your friend indicate he’s dealt with that sales person before and they were wonderful and the service was great. Was it just you? Either way, the first impression that salesperson gave you marked him AND that location in your mind as a place to avoid.
Impressions mean a lot from the perspective of the person looking out at the world. I use the example of a salesperson because it’s a simple and easily understood example. But I’m sure you can think of others. For example, let me tell you about two different people you might see out in public. The first is a young male, well dressed, shirt and tie with dress shoes. He’s clean-shaven and looks to have an ever-so-slight smirk on his face. He appears happy and seems to be on top of his game. At first glance, most would think he may be a local manager or business person. The second person is wearing torn, dirty sweatpants, has at least a few days growth on his face, hair askew and is wearing a canvass coat over everything that quite frankly, smells a bit off as you walk by. At first glance, one might be inclined to believe this person to be homeless or derelict, looking to pander for change or a free meal.
What do you think? Do you agree with those descriptions? From a personal standpoint, first impressions make a difference because they set the bar for how people interact with you. If you’re meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time and you keep a straight face and seem standoffish, that impression may lead them to think your not personable or good as a partner for their child. But if you take the time to smile, shake hands and/or hug (depending on the family, of course), you’ll make a much better first impression. The point is, impressions can last and although every person’s perspective and view of the world may be different, it’s usually pretty difficult to change that impression once it’s been made. It’s a reflex that humans have that’s somewhat connected to our survival instincts.
Now, it’s important to understand that there’s a big difference between making a good impression and worrying about what others think of you. Those are two entirely different things. If you were to tell me that I shouldn’t care what others think of me, I would agree that you are correct. But unless the meeting of someone has an underlying negative connotation anyway, making a good impression is important. Almost as important as never judging a proverbial book by its cover, which brings us back to our two subjects from the second paragraph. I’m sure you’d like to know who and what those two characters actually are…
The first man, the one in the suit; he’s actually a homeless guy who’s been crashing on friend’s couch. He’s barely eaten in the past week after losing his previous job due to illness and he’s on his way to an interview that he hopes will provide him with a new career. His smile denotes his optimism and hope for the future. He sees good things ahead, and plans on benefiting from them. He borrowed the suit from one of his uncles so that he could make a good first impression.
The second man, the one with the hair all over the place and smelly clothes that looks like he may be a homeless person? He’s actually a successful investigator with a large, family home just outside the city. He’s built his businesses to the point that he can be home or absent from work whenever he chooses and never has to worry about money for the rest of his life. Why is he dressed this way, with a strained look in his face? Because he helped one of his neighbours clear out his back lot after some light flooding dragged forest scraps and waste into his yard, hence the filth and the smell. He worked in similar industries in previous years and knew he’d be able to help.
If you had known this information about those two at the very beginning, how would it have changed your impression of them? It would be lying to say that it WOULDN’T have, right? But as I said, first impressions can be important and although I mostly refer to the impression you yourself make on an approaching party when meeting them the first time, impressions are the message that others send to us when meeting for the first time. So always put your best foot forward. No matter what side of the counter you find yourself on, no what kind of attitude or personality the other person has or what certain biases may surface in your brain. You’ll be all the better for it AND you’ll go a certain way towards making a better world. ☯