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You never get a second chance to make a good first impression– unless you are Richard Burton

11. August 2017 -

The verb decide comes from the Latin decidere, which literally means to “cut off” (from: de = off and caedere = to cut). A decision, then, is a process of cutting off alternatives to leave the one choice. Most of us describe our decision making as a very logical process but the reality is that we make our decisions quickly and intuitively. This is especially true in social interactions such as sales meetings, job interviews and speed dating.

First impressions are the fundamental drivers of relationships,” says Professor Frank Bernieri of Oregon State University. We make a reasonably accurate assessment of a person from observing just a few seconds, or a “thin slice”, of their behaviour. If we decide that a new acquaintance is a certain type of person, who thinks, feels and behaves a certain way, we pay more attention to evidence that confirms our theory is correct. This is known as “confirmation bias”. This is why it is so hard to change a first impression.

If most judgments are immediate and instinctive, can we ever control the way that other people perceive us? Well, research suggests that here are two things to consider if you want to make a good first impression.

First, be open. “There’s a behavioural principle known as the “expressivity halo”. People who communicate in an expressive, animated fashion tend to be liked more than difficult-to-read people,” says Bernieri, “even if they are expressing something such as irritation. Because we feel more confident in our reading of them, they are less of a threat.” Extroverts will find this more natural than introverts will, of course.

Second, discover things you have in common. Books you have read, films you have seen, mutual friends or enemies – the things we share create a powerful bond. “It’s called the similarity attraction hypothesis,” says Bernieri. “It’s powerful because it’s a cognitive processing phenomenon – a reflex, not an analytical skill.”

It is not rational, but finding out that you share the same name or hometown as someone can create a sense of affection for that person. People buy things from people like them.

Our first few seconds with a person are clearly significant – but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest we can overcome a bad encounter if given the chance.

Richard Burton, in his autobiography “Meeting Mrs. Jenkins”, wrote of meeting Elizabeth Taylor for the first time. “She was so beautiful I nearly laughed out loud. I did not, of course, which was just as well. The girl was clearly not going to be laughing back. I had an idea that, finding nothing of interest, she was looking right through me and was examining the wall behind.

Somehow, Richard Burton turned this perception around to the point where she agreed to marry him, twice! Perhaps my next article will focus on how exactly he did that.