Armed with these techniques and mindsets, you’ll be in a much stronger position to recover from rough first impressions. But you’ll also find that you’re able to better judge other people’s first impressions on you.
Victoria, a school administrator, brought this to life in one of our workshops.
One of the surprising benefits of improving her first impression, she told the group, was how much more forgiving she had become of other people’s.
In fact, at the start of the workshop, she had met a fellow student who seemed nervous and uninterested. By the end of it, she realized that he was just exhibiting patterns she had too on a number of occasions. Normally she would have assumed that he was rude or untrustworthy. But now, Victoria just saw someone who might be having an off day or struggling with meeting new people.
By improving her own impressions, she made it easier for other people to perfect theirs.
We tend to have far more compassion for our own missteps than for other people’s. Part of our job is extending this awareness to the people we meet.
When other people fail to make a perfect first impression on us, we can choose to interpret it with empathy rather than judgment. We can give them the benefit of the doubt, refrain from making assumptions about their character, carry some of the weight of the conversation, or simply remember that they might be going through exactly the same experience we’ve gone through on multiple occasions. Most importantly, we can choose — if it makes sense — to give them another shot to form a relationship, just as we wish other people would do with us.
When we do, we invite those people to prove that they’re more than a single interaction — to actually build a relationship with us — which is ultimately a gift to ourselves as well as to them.
So yes, great first impressions are a key skill.
But it turns out they’re not the most important part of building a new relationship. The most part is giving the relationship the best possible odds of succeeding by investing in it with the right values and approaches. And oftentimes that means improving upon the first impression when it doesn’t go as well as we had hoped.
We can — and should — hone our first impressions as much as we can. But in a world where they don’t always land, we should also hone this secondary, and more important ability: the ability to accept and rewrite them, which turns out to be the key to even more meaningful relationships in the long term.