Our Brain and First Impressions

If you're a fan of Pride and Prejudice like me, when you hear "first impressions" you think of how Lizzie and Darcy nearly didn't get together due to false first impressions. Apparently this is the norm, not the exception, since our brain is lazy.

As Heidi Grant Halvorson explains in her book No One Understands You and What to Do About It, our brain's default is to take shortcuts and jump to conclusions based on circumstantial clues. This gets worst when we're distracted, and once we've made that first impression, it's hard for us to admit we're wrong. We'll go so far as to ignore discrepancies (e.g., a beautiful person can't be evil!) since the cognitive dissonance causes us mental pain.

Reading the above was pretty scary since we're all very distracted these days and are probably jumping to biased conclusions without being aware of this. Understanding some of the biased "lenses" in play will help us improve both how we see others and are seen by them.

One of the series of lenses we see people through are their relative usefulness and standing compared to us:
  1. Are they friend or foe? And if we determine that they're an ally, can we count on them to do what they say they'll do?
  2. Are they more or less powerful? If less, are they useful to us or not?
  3. Are they a threat to our ego? Are we in competition for the same resources (e.g., boyfriend or promotion) or are they one of "us" and therefore we can share in each other's glory?
Knowing that these questions are always being asked on a subconscious level, you can plan for them. For example, make eye contact to show you're friendly and confident; explain to a more powerful person why you're worth their time; and diminish your threat to someone's ego by finding something to bond over.

Does the above explain why a previous encounter went wrong? What could you have done differently knowing the above?

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