The old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression is much more truthful than you might have ever thought. It’s not just a saying; it’s almost always a fact!
Research shows that we quickly develop impressions of others – sometimes in as little as a tenth of a second – and with minimal information (we call this automatic self-communication). We then tend to place a greater value on our initial feelings than on facts, even after we’ve learned the truth about someone, and we’re rarely swayed when the truth contradicts our initial feelings.
The way we communicate with each other is a complex process influenced by many variables that occur over our lifetime. The very biology of our children is affected by our communication patterns and content, and the historical nature of communication affects our ability to connect with others, including customers and clients.
The third dimension to this communication paradigm is automatic assessments, which color the way we see the world around us every day and ultimately deeply affects the quality of our lives. Ask family members, friends or colleagues what color roses or tomatoes are and they’ll probably say red without hesitation. But roses can range from deep purple and maroon to the red, yellow or white we commonly see. Ripened tomatoes come in an array of hues – green, yellow, orange, red, purple – depending on the variety. But most people would say red if you asked the color.
A Harvard researcher found that we actually form two initial impressions of a person. We first make judgments about trustworthiness and then about competence. We also make automatic assumptions about people based on how they dress, speech patterns, physical mannerisms, age, gender, and race.
This social categorization, based largely on survival instincts handed down to us over generations, allows us to make quick decisions about individuals and groups of people. Interestingly enough, researchers say we are often right. The downside is that these automatic assessments aren’t always correct – just as tomatoes aren’t always red – and this can lead to errors in judgment and stereotyping.
The implications in a sales environment can be serious. Imagine making a quick but erroneous assumption about a potential customer’s ability to buy your product. You’ve probably just lost a sale. Suppose you think the stoic looking middle-aged man at the meeting table is in charge when it’s actually the cheerful young woman pouring the coffee. You’ve probably just lost a contract. Remember, too, that people are making the same automatic assessments of you.
These assessments are intuitive and most of the time we don’t realize we’re making them. They can be valuable. But we must be careful in how we use them because a simple mistake can be very costly for your business.