Professional Development

Should First Impression Matter?

I attended what should have been an amazing event some time ago. Sadly, my memory of that event was marred by an incident that occurred before the event started. Upon arrival, I was unsure of the precise location of the event; as such I decided to ask a front desk staff who quite dismissively gave me a wrong direction. After wasting time in search of the location to no avail, I went back to the front desk staff but the response I received was quite disappointing. Speaking with harshness in their tone, this staff barely paid attention to whatever I had to say. Long story short, my impression of this staff was: how can such a rude staff be entrusted with being at the front desk?

Some months later, I had reason to encounter this staff more frequently than I ever envisaged. Initially, I was quite careful in relating with this staff as I did not want a déjà vu of my first encounter. Through repeated contacts and interactions, I had a rethink of my first impression of this staff. My impression of this staff soon moved from “how can such a rude person be a front desk staff” to “why was this person so rude that day?” As a result, I started thinking about the concept of “first impression”.

We hear a lot about the importance of making a great first impression which is almost synonymous to making a judgement about a person based on your initial contact with them. While it is true that your first impression of a person could say a lot about that person, it could also be the case that your first impression is just that – yours. In most cases, we make subjective judgement about others based on templates that have been formed by past experiences, backgrounds, preferences, information, etc. We project these templates on others, thereby forming an impression that might not be reflective of that person’s true nature. Sadly, we allow this, sometimes wrong impression, to influence our interactions and decisions.

Should we then completely disregard the concept of first impression? Not necessarily. Rather than striving (or pretending) not to make a first impression, I think we should be more conscious of the impressions we make of others as this could be influenced by several factors which might have little or nothing to do with that person. We should also be aware of unconscious biases that could interfere with our interpretation of a person’s appearance or behaviour during our initial contact or interaction with them. The nicest, loveliest, most helpful person in the world who is having a terrible day could be misjudged by a stranger as a person who is mean, impatient, unhelpful, etc. Therefore, before you form an impression about that person, be as objective as possible and be prepared to give the benefit of the doubt where necessary.

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