Frequently in my talks and workshops, when I am covering the topics of psychology of image and the impact of a first impression, I have people say we just shouldn’t judge one another from a first impression. It’s a great idea but very hard to achieve, it is pretty much impossible to meet someone for the first time and think nothing about them at all – good or bad. Just as it is impossible for us as human beings to communicate nothing to others – to have a totally neutral personal image.
The reason for this is basic human instinct; it comes from the inbuilt friend or foe, flight or fight mechanism that we have in us, as a protection mechanism.
Everything we think about another person when we instantly meet them is a combination of what they are projecting to us together with our own experience of the world, these 2 elements help us form a perception of that person. It can be as simple as someone having a similar style of dress or similar mannerisms to someone else we know and our mind projecting our thoughts about them onto the new person. It might not be fair and wholly rationale but it’s reality. It’s how our minds work. Of course, perceptions can be changed, but it takes a bit of time and for the person forming the perception to be open to reappraisal.
A different perspective?
I am always keen to understand more about how impressions are formed by tapping into different thinking and research. To that end, I have recently been reading a book that was published a couple of years ago. I thought had a great way of describing what it is we are looking for when we meet someone i.e. the most positive attributes. John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut in their book ‘Compelling People’ categorise it as ‘strength’ and ‘warmth’. I like this positioning a lot. If we think for a minute what it means. ‘Strength’ is essentially that someone is competent, capable, ready and able to do what they need to; vital characteristics, particularly in the work place. ‘Warmth’ is essentially that we can connect with someone, that we feel they have some understanding of us and our position – a sense of shared perspective – a state that is likely to facilitate a professional relationship.
John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut tell an interesting story about different people you might meet at a party, describing the behaviour of those people and comes up with an interesting variant on the typical 4 quadrant model which illustrates a typical first impression view of people that exhibit different amounts of ‘strength’ and warmth’.

From ‘Compelling People’ by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut
Do these resonate with you? The challenge of course is combining the two attributes as often people that are perceived as traditionally strong can also be perceived as a little cold in the pursuit of making their perceived strength reality. I am still reading the book, it is going on to cover a lot of the elements I run workshops on such as, voice and non-verbal communication. So you can definitely expect reference to John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut’s work in the future!
However, in the meantime, think about those you have had favourable first impressions of – reflect on them in terms of strength and warmth.  Where do they sit on the scales? Reflect on yourself, do you think you project different levels of strength and warmth in different scenarios? I know I do…it’s usually related to how I feel inside about the situation I’m in. I’d be delighted to hear any comments or reflections you have on this way of looking at the impact of a first impression.
If you’d like some tips on being positively memorable to build great professional relationships, send me a message to arrange a complimentary 30 minute call. I am certain you will leave with some easy actions to implement!