Social Media and fallacy of First Impressions

Joe Luca

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Human beings are built to size each other up quickly. These first impressions are influenced by a number of factors, such as facial shape, vocal inflection, attractiveness, and general emotional state. People tend to get attached to their initial impressions of others and find it very difficult to change their opinion, even when presented with lots of evidence to the contrary. Psychology Today

People are Peacocks, Only in Sneakers and High Heels

Let’s face it, the male peacock is beautiful. Its tailfeathers rising majestically above a fine rear-end, that apparently tickles the lady peacocks and makes them all giddy and willing to set up house – for a time. It’s self-evident that such finery has an impact. It gets the bird noticed and admired and if his follow up repartee is well-timed and not overly fussy, he will eventually end up in a union, however swift, and perhaps with a few young ones in his future.

First Impressions right, you can’t beat them.

Or can you?

People are more sophisticated in their actions and frankly, have more cash, so can incorporate all sorts of additional bells and whistles as they go about their lives in a never-ending quest to impress others in some way. Fancy cars, Gucci bags and sandals, threaded eyebrows, cool-sculpting and an endless array of cosmetic enhancements. All in an effort to make themselves seem taller, cuter, smarter, healthier and more attractive an asset, depending on the end result in play. Marriage, partnership, sponsorship, employment, investment, start-up, the options are varied and the stakes, often very high.

But does it work?

If at first you don’t succeed – try something different

When we impress, what is actually happening. What does one mind and body transmit to another mind and body and do these messages, in whatever form they may take, actually make a difference?

In other words, does wearing an expensive suit set the tone for an interview or simple label the interviewee vain and oblivious? Does the cut of the fabric actually transcend the other qualities, that person is conveying through speech and personality?

Does he even need to show up; perhaps sending in the suit by itself with a resume pinned to it, would do just as well.

Unlike the peacock and his plumage, who somehow knows that he must keep the feathers clean, practice his dance steps and otherwise not get in his own way and he’s good to go. We, on the other hand tend to overthink things, and make it more complicated than it need be.

We are told or have read that employers, potential mates, bosses and other people in positions of “power”, require certain things in the people who come before them. Whether taking place in a business or bedroom suite or a neighborhood Starbucks. We internalize all these admonitions and squeeze ourselves into a character that we believe will put us in the best light.

But does it?

Are first impressions really that potent and do they actually take place at all?

Years ago, coming in off a late business flight into New Orleans, I stumbled out of the airport, into a cab, and was deposited into the middle of tens of thousands of people partying out in the streets. WTF!

It was Mardi Gras, and yes, I was completely oblivious to what was going on. I hadn’t noticed the date.

Thousands with drinks in their hands, bands playing out on the streets. Women in balconies above, baring their breasts for beads tossed up to them by guys down below – what was my first impression?

I didn’t have one.

No, let me explain. I didn’t have just – one. I had 25, at least. This was crazy. This was great. This was legal?! This was a cultural phenomenon. So, this was Mardi Gras. On and on.

Which one was first, I haven’t a bloody clue. They all raced passed the frontal lobe so quickly, I was on number 19 before I knew where I was.

So, in my opinion, I never had that first impression. I think the “first impressions” we actually have, occur a microsecond before we experience the other kind we often refer to. Something born out of past experience, over-thinking, stress, anxiety and other factors that we may or may not be aware of.

In others words, and to use that interview example again, that interviewer probably read the resume, long period the body walked into the room. Had probably spoken to an assistant or head of department about the candidates. What their opinions were. What they thought was the ideal candidate.

So, in fact, that first impression was long gone and, in the books, as done, set and looking to be refuted.

Humans do this all the time. We pre-set our opinions. We cast our vote before we open the ballot. We like the woman from Dartmouth, because your wife went there.

So, why are we spending so much time trying to create First Impressions then?

My point, exactly.

When in doubt – just be yourself.

We are unique. Yes, you and me and all the rest of us out there. We may have similarities, sure, like two ears, a nose, a chin or two, but we are still unique. What is most unique is our perspective. Or call it voice or outlook, or whatever 30 to 40 years of living brings together in one place and person. That’s unique.

So, why bother trying to be someone else? Why bother trying to dress up in order to appear like someone, you believe the other person is more likely to respond favorably to?

It might work. The suit might do the trick. However, experience and observations over a lifetime and a thousand stories from others I’ve known, paint a different picture. One of frustration, disappointment, confusion and so on, created when they tried to smooth out their edges and fit artistically into a round hole, right in front of others.

Most had regret. Most felt lessened by the experience. Most wanted a do-over and wished they had gone in, wearing jeans, a clean shirt, their best jacket and the face they always wore with their friends.

Caveat

Wear what you like. A suit. Your best T-shirt and shorts tandem. Calvin Klein Slacks and a blouse, whatever. Except for one thing. Make sure You are out in front and not your clothes, your speech, your stories or anything else, that “you’re supposed” to be.

Innovation vs. Imitation

Creative people who think outside the box are often called innovators. Did you ever hear Joe Cocker sing the blues? He had a voice like gravel sliding down a coal chute. But feelings – my God the feelings. He was unique. He took a voice that a gangster might lust over and turned into a thing of passion and purpose.

Finding one’s voice amidst the chaos of life; coming upon a purpose that makes you warm and fuzzy inside – every day – is an amazing occurrence. For many it never happens.

But chances are, to that recruiter, father, first date off eHarmony, you’re being seen for the first time. They don’t know you. Putting on familiar clothes, face or airs to impress, may just leave them seeing someone else and not you. Which is more a distraction than anything else.

You only get one chance at a first impression

In my opinion – totally false. An admonition offered up by some poor soul who had issues and thought it a keen idea to inflict the same pain on everyone else.

You bring your boyfriend in to meet your parents for the” first time” and you’re worried. You should be. You’ve been talking to mom about your new guy for a while. She’s been talking to dad in turn. And you know how dad gets. They’ve been thinking about this moment for 2 ½ months and now, you’re there for Sunday dinner and their first impression.

Seriously?

They are on their 23rd possible impression of what your new guy is like, considering the previous five new guys over the past two years. They’re thinking and worrying and wanting him to be just like the guy in high school – who you never seemed to get on with. Had a good family, father was a brain surgeon. You remember him.

Moral of the story

True first impressions are rare. Because humans being humans overthink things. They prepare. Stress the small stuff and cram into their own minds the Five Top Qualities of an ideal payroll accountant. So much so, that when the actual ideal candidate walks in, they frequently get overlooked because they don’t fit the image in that person’s mind.

Fair? Hell no. But it happens.

So, what the solution?

Create YOUR own first impression. Focus on who you are, which means, be who you are. If you’re generally quiet, use it as an advantage. Show you’re a good listener.

If you’re concerned about the first date, interview, etc., - use it, by stressing how new situations are important to get right, but there’s so much to learn that it’s best to try to handle a few things first and let the rest come later.

If you tend to talk too much, tell them that, in a friendly and sincere way. But that you listen equally well.

In other words, don’t change you to meet the situation. Adapt the situation to match who you are.

Leaders do this all the time. As do politicians and others who rely on public support. They try to impress by being who they think others want to see. They say things, they believe others want to hear, even if they themselves couldn’t give a toss about it.

Sincere is an old word falling into disuse. It means without deceit, pretense or hypocrisy. From its root words, meaning without decay.

As a leader be sincere. As a first date, be sincere. As a person walking into Starbucks, be sincere. Sincerity will get you further than a $5000 suit, fake tan, false beliefs and desperate words of entreaty.

In the words of the inimitable Oscar Wilde – Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

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To inform, entertain, enlighten and otherwise engage in the age-old practice of storytelling. To be part of the process of keeping all of us informed on what is happening in the world around us and perhaps, if I do my job well enough, bring about change in the way we control our own lives and make the decisions that will impact our future and those of the people we care about.

Los Angeles, CA
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