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How the Mind Works

We’ve all heard it before: first impressions are powerful and difficult to recover from once a judgment is made. It takes a split second for someone to size you up when they are introduced to you. It only takes a few seconds to be judged on appearance, personality, speech and behavior deviations from what they consider “normal”. Though these judgments may or may not be an accurate depiction of you, they are difficult to overcome.

These conclusions are derived from past experiences, creating a judgment about the person, just as the other individual has about you. This type of snap judgment is known as Cognitive Bias, and it happens more frequently than you may think. There are several pre-conceived notions that create filters in one’s mind when quickly judging another person. If people you engage with aren’t aware of these biases (they usually aren’t), they’ll unknowingly skew their impression of you and make it difficult for you to continue your dialogue.

Let’s take introverts or, shy individuals, for example. These individuals may come off as unapproachable, not interested to engage in a conversation, even judgmental at times. To an extrovert, or an individual with a vibrant personality, this initial interaction may be viewed negatively. Though in reality, introverts may just a little time to warm up to. If the extrovert doesn’t understand this, their cognitive bias will kick in; pulling personal traits or past experiences creating a false first impression of the person in a negative way.

All this correlates to marketing your brand, and how you present yourself to prospective clients. Their first impression of you is an everlasting impression. As mentioned in my previous article, “Perception Is Reality”, if the client’s immediate impression of you is careless, disorganized or even unprofessional, you’ve unintentionally created a hurdle for yourself to earn their trust back. Take your website for example: is it a true reflection of how you and your team or company want to be portrayed? Is it professional and easy to follow? How about your brochures and flyers? Were these created in Word/Publisher, utilizing clip art, or were these professionally designed and printed?

First impressions are crucial, whether in your business or your personal life. Always put your best foot forward, no matter the occasion.

The Influence of Cognitive Bias

In 2015 Business Insider released the following info-graphic to highlight 20 of the most common Cognitive Biases that could potentially lead to bad decisions. The immediate judgment created by a first impression contains some of these biases; see if you can identify these. Once you understand what a cognitive bias is and how it correlates with the decision-making process of your first impressions, take ownership and control them to work in your favor.

Creating A Better First Impression

Now that you have a better understanding of the importance of a first impression and what factors influence an individual’s judgment about you as a person or professional, here are a few suggestions for creating an effective first impression when meeting someone new:

  1. Dress slightly better than the occasion warrants.
  2. Make frequent eye contact when speaking to show conviction, but don’t be too dominating.
  3. Be sure to smile frequently. People are drawn to pleasant individuals and can spot a smile a mile away.
  4. Think of the most positive attributes of the person. (This will put you in a positive mood)
  5. Adjust your tone of voice, posture and words to the other person. (People are drawn to like-individuals)
  6. Give people the benefit of the doubt. (They may not be making a great first impression, but be sure to acknowledge your cognitive bias against the individual and give them a second chance)
  7. Be confident in yourself and don’t try to be someone you’re not. (Trust in your abilities, but don’t over sell yourself beyond your competencies)
  8. Express the attributes you would like to portray early on.


Final Thoughts

First impressions are impactful and a poor first impression is difficult to recover from. Understanding the basic principles on how your mind works and the effects cognitive bias has on your decisions will not only help you with the first impression you portray but will prevent you from making false judgments yourself. Keep this concept in mind when meeting a person for a first time or how you market your brand.