It’s effortless to form first impressions of someone. If you have a good sense of people skills and some positive thinking in your capabilities, you may feel pretty confident about the opinions you form of others based on those impressions. Perhaps you’ve even been right many times!
But first impressions aren’t foolproof, and their presence can prevent you from learning more about those you form impressions about. No matter how sure you are that your image is correct, there’s always a genuine chance that you’ve got it off-center. But how and why does this happen? Here are five reasons why first impressions are not always correct.
1. Understand Your Personal Biases
Many people think they’re immune to being biased, perhaps due to their self-awareness or because they don’t believe they are likely to have any biases. But this isn’t how human beings work!
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you hold subconscious biases that change how you see the world and the people around you. This perception can naturally affect your first impressions, as your preferences lead you around. Here are some ways that this happens:
· Your Perception Is Shaped By Your Experiences
If someone reminds you of a teacher you disliked, you will form a more negative impression of them. If someone gives off the vibes of a friendly and kind member of your family, you may naturally like them more. What you’ve experienced in life changes how you see others based on what you’ve learned!
· Your Day Determines What You See
If you’re having a good day, you’re more likely to create favorable impressions when you meet people. But if you’re having a bad day, people are less favorable to your eye. Don’t let what side of the bed you got up on or how much positive thinking you have determined how you perceive others!
· Your Emotional State Changes Things
How you feel can impact how you behave and feel about the people around you. For example, if you’re feeling odd or uncomfortable, you’re less likely to have favorable opinions of those you’re meeting for the first time. Instead of labeling people immediately, you should consider how your behavior and presence may affect the impression they leave on you.
2. Your Perception Can Be Impaired By This Judgement
When you form first impressions, that split-second snap judgment will color your perception for a long time. This can be inherently harmful, as you’ll struggle to change your perceptions when you gain more information about someone, with your brain stuck in the past.
These judgments are often false, meaning you can’t trust anything they say! Here are some ways this judgment doesn’t reflect real perceptions and realities:
· Judgments Don’t Take Into Account The Other Person’s Unique Situation
Other people live rich, entire lives where anything could be happening. Someone who you think is simply surly and moody may be a very cheerful person. Still, your impression of them was formed after they suffered a loss in their life. You cannot know what is going on in the lives of those you first meet. So avoid making judgments when you’re not able to get all of the information necessary even to begin doing so!
· Judgments Are Based On Stereotypes
Stereotypes usually prove to be unfair and inaccurate. This is especially the case for more superficial stereotypes, such as the concept that someone is promiscuous if they dress in revealing clothing. Instead of allowing stereotypes to overrun your judgment and ruin your perception, expand your mind and understand that these “typings” aren’t necessarily true.
· Judgemental Impressions Don’t Change
Studies show that if you form a specific opinion or impression of someone from the get-go, it is tough to change it later, no matter how much evidence proves you wrong. To avoid having to undergo the complex process of unlearning these impressions, you can prevent the circumstance entirely by intentionally keeping your mind open.
3. People Are Too Complex
People aren’t exactly simple beings. Trying to make an accurate first impression of one isn’t going to work because those impressions are based on simplicity. What you first saw and experienced of that person is what you assume you will get in the long-term, even if that’s not true.
People are so complex and complicated that one impression will never provide an accurate image. Here’s why that happens:
· People Have Many Faces
No one is genuinely one-dimensional. There isn’t any person who is only severe, only funny, angry, or only sensitive. People have many sides to them and rotate between these sides as needed for daily tasks. They will behave differently at work than they do at home and very differently with strangers and new acquaintances than they will around trusted friends.
· People Are Guarded
Very few people will openly tell you their deepest secrets and worst fears from the get-go. The norm is for people to be more guarded and hold their cards close to their chest. They’ll keep things to themselves, practice a good deal of discretion, and present a positive appearance to the world around them. You have to consider that people aren’t open books and pick and choose what to share with people they’ve just met, so your first impressions may not be accurate!
· People Need Time To Show Themselves
If you want to truly and accurately know someone, you’ll need to spend a lot of time with them – or at least, much more time than it would take to form a first impression! People aren’t going to show all of their sides to people they don’t know well. A lot of people’s true selves are ones you’ll only see when you give them the time and space to feel comfortable enough around you to show themselves down to their very core.
4. You’re Influenced By Culture
Culture is the world you grow up in, the communities you’re a part of, and the opinions you’re exposed to daily – or at least regularly. No matter what, that culture is a part of who you are, and it shapes your perspectives on a deep level right down to your core.
This means that whenever you try to make a first impression of someone, you’re allowing your culturally-developed thoughts to decide whether your culture thinks well of them or not. While this can have benefits, it’s also not always accurate. Here are some ways culture has influenced you when you make first impressions:
· Physical Appearance
A lot of what we judge people has to do with their appearance. Different cultures have different expectations for positive and negative appearances, but the bottom line is that you’ll be influenced to form impressions based on how someone looks. Most specifically, studies suggest that you’ll see people you find attractive as more intelligent, competent, and healthy than those you don’t find attractive. It sounds superficial, but it’s true – you’re influenced by the attractiveness halo effect when forming impressions!
· The Media
Many people like to think they are unswayed by the media’s presentation of certain people. Still, the fact is that the media you consume does affect you on a subconscious level. According to research, you are likely to form biases based on the media you regularly consume, which will inform your first impressions.
· Collectives or Individuals?
The way you form and keep first impressions can depend on whether you are a collectivist or an individualist. If you’re a collectivist, you may feel most comfortable agreeing with the opinions of your community, culture, or collective. So you’ll be less likely to change your impressions if your community doesn’t. On the other hand, if you have an individualist view, you won’t feel bound by the unspoken rules of your culture to think and believe in a specific way. This may allow you to alter impressions as you go, say studies.
The spoken accent, or even their manner of speaking, can change how you perceive others. You are likely to group accents based on what you know about them and form your impressions in that manner, which is understandably not the best way to develop opinions. Unfortunately, research shows that this is very common, and you’re likely to judge those with accents similar to yours more favorably than you would those with dissimilar speech.
5. People Can Learn To Make False Impressions
Even if you carefully do all you can to form the most accurate first impression, the fact is that many people out there want to learn how to make good first impressions. These people read up on body language, dress as instructed by help books, and carefully craft a persona that will allow them to make fantastic first impressions right off the bat.
Though this is an impressive success, it’s also one that warrants caution. That’s because it means that you can easily form a positive first impression of someone who is merely acting in a specific way to garner that reaction. It’s a poor way to develop trust in others. Besides, that’s why you should put all of that aside and focus on learning about someone instead of judging them based on the impression they present.
Remember, you can literally buy books, watch videos, and watch talks by “experts” about making the very best first impressions possible. With that wealth of information easily available to just about anyone, you can’t trust first impressions, as they could be entirely crafted and false!
Final Thoughts On Some Reasons Why First Impressions Are Not Always Right
It’s okay to form some first impressions depending on what people show you of them when you meet. But those impressions need to be malleable! You can’t decide that these impressions are a definite symbol of truth forever; you need to give them space to change and grow!
The bottom line is that people are complex. Understand that you have innate biases and influences that can make first impressions much less accurate. Don’t let your first impressions ruin your chances of truly getting to know someone on a deeper level over time!