We’ve all heard the saying, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Yet, we often find ourselves, not just judging books, but also forming strong opinions of people based on our first interactions with them. As Professor Alexander Todorov of Princeton University points out: we “form quick impressions—within milliseconds—about a person’s character based on their appearance.” And these impressions affect how we treat people at our workplace.

Sam Gosling, a personality psychologist at the University of Texas says, “First impressions are often quite helpful, but you have to be willing to update them quite rapidly. That’s what’s very hard to do.” How can you then challenge your first impressions? Build a richer picture of the person, over interactions, by observing the following:

  • How much they listen. Does your new colleague, interviewee, or volunteer never miss a chance to talk about himself/ herself? Studies show that people spend 60% of their conversations talking about themselves, 80% when chatting on social media. However, people with good communication skills, strive to make the conversation balanced and engaging. They allow their partner to talk at least 50% of the time and learn in the process. Keep an eye out for active listeners as they make you feel valued, and in turn add value to any conversation.
  • How they treat others. A litmus test that helps in understanding the true nature of individuals is how they treat their juniors and service providers, and not just their peers and superiors. Boonaa Mohammed, a Canadian poet said, “If the whole world was blind, how many people would you impress?” Kindness would be one way to go about winning the hearts of many people. And who wouldn’t want a kind co-worker?
  • How they respond to your feedback. Initial impressions often give us a limited view of a person’s abilities. Key among such abilities: willingness to learn. On receiving feedback, some people might ask more questions and identify areas for improvement, while others might be defensive in their reactions. The former show a growth mindset, which can be a valuable asset to your team. Watch to see whether people change their attitude, approach, or performance based on feedback.

As human beings, it’s our nature to be taken in by a person’s outward charm. If we spend more time understanding them, and look beyond initial impressions, we can go on to build mutually beneficial relationships in the long run.

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