First impressions lead to bad decisions. We have all heard our first impressions are our best impressions, or follow our gut it never leads us in the wrong the direction. The technical definition of a first impression is when we encounter another person for the first time and form a mental image of that person. The problem with first impressions is their accuracy depends on our prior experiences. Worst is when we take single anecdotal experiences and generalize it to apply to every situation. Those previous experiences can and often cloud our first impression of life.
About a month ago, I met with a woman who is a life coach at a certain point in our phone conversation she said to me “she was not feeling my passion.” Her remark upset me because she did not know enough about me to make that assessment. At the moment she made her comment, we had only spoken for about 30 minutes. Her observation was correct in that I was not displaying much passion, I did not have a passion for hiring a life coach.
Often our first impressions are not what we are observing from the other person; rather we project our prior experiences onto current situations. Our first impressions of other people are preconceived or misaligned due to misreading a situation. In above example, she misread the situation. It is impossible to determine why it occurred. One possible explanation is a lack mental astuteness. Our brains are masterful consolidators, a necessity when calculating millions of bits of data per hour. It is essential and expedient for us to make fast decisions of a routine variety. Unfortunately, our brains are not good distinguishing wrong input from the right input. We judge the value of the information. Without designation or confirmation, we deliver our verdict or first impression.
First impressions can be a valuable tool when we have taken the time to clean our mental screen. We just got out of our car where we are still angered over the person who cut of off. How long does it take us to let that situation go before we take it out on next encounter that projects onto our mental screen? How do you think our first impression work when we are angry, sad, flustered or happy? Research shows that our immediate previous experience affects our next experience, called priming. For example, if you just found out you will receive a raise at work; your impression of the next person you meet will be favorable.
Confirmed or implicit biases affect our decision making. Confirmed biases or preconceptions are a problem because they limit the choices we consider when making decisions. For example, what impression comes to mind when you see a young male wearing sagging pants? I would guess whatever it is it is not positive. When I was a young man, we let our hair grow and either wore it as an afro or braided in what some call corn rolls. The older folks did not care for this look. If you think back to your youth, I am sure you had a similar fashion no-no. We form preconceived ideas for many things: food, cars, gender, fashion, electronics, business, media or politics you name a concept and we have a preconception. We pretend that we can make objective decisions regardless of our preconceptions and biases.
Behind our impressions are decisions; we make decisions based on our preconceived idea of the thing, not logic or facts. For some of us, we are so convinced of our preconceptions we no longer question their validity. Sometimes this is associated with older people; we say they are stuck in their ways. Other times, the outcome of our decisions does not produce the desired results we hoped. When this occurs, we lose confidence in our ability decision make. Consider the online dating craze; roughly, half the population in the U.S. is single regardless of age. Conceivable every other person you encounter on a daily basis is single 24/7/365. People are relinquishing their ability to choose a mate and feeling more confident in a computer.
Computers are excellent tools for sorting data and producing choices. However, computers can only provide choices based on inputted data. Because we are confident in our preconceived ideas, we lose the objectivity. We can use the fastest computer with the highest internet speed, but if our search range is limited, we find the same information repeatedly. It is called confirmed bias because we only seek information that confirms our beliefs. We disregard information that challenges our preconceived ideas.
Diverge to Converge
We can do better, but first, we must recognize that there are limitations to our choice making abilities. Sometimes we do not know what we do not know. First impressions will not help us if we do not have a reference frame. Faking it until we know it is a sure way to make bad decisions. In these times it helps to have a variety of input sources, more is better. Even if we do not use all the advice, the more varied the voices, the greater the likelihood we hear something which helps us make a better decision. How many times have you experienced something that was outside your preview and discovered that it was just what you needed to make a decision?
At one time, it was thought that high IQ’s determined success, MBA’s made the best C-suite executives, but it is the MFA’s (Masters of Fine Art) that make the best CEO’s. Fine Art majors make better CEO’s because they see integration better than MBA’s. This is an excellent example of a preconception that had to be rethought due to new information. Not surprising that the best CEO’s move from divergent thoughts toward convergence to make decisions. Diverse information sources provide a richer context for better decisions making.
Our first impressions may not be the best information for making good decisions. Fight the current preconceptions by moving outside your beliefs and convictions; incorporate a variety of source input and work to clear our mental screen prior to making a decision. Of course, for rudimentary decisions, this is not necessary first impressions work fine. As the complexities of the decision increase seeking a variety of information will pay dividends.