Monday, October 27, 2008

First Impressions

I attended a Memorial Service recently and one participant (let's call her Sally) shared a story about the deceased (let's call him Jim). Sally explained that she first met Jim at a dinner party. Sally was seated, Jim stopped at the chair next to her and then moved to the other side of the table. From then on Sally thought that Jim did not like her and, thus, she avoided contact with him. Sally never got to know Jim. After Jim passed away, Sally learned that Jim had a very bad back and that there were only a few chairs that were comfortable for him. Jim had moved to the other side of the table in search of a better chair. Not to get away from Sally.

This story confirms one aspect of forming first impressions. We use first impressions as a filter and if we believe that someone doesn't like us, then we behave accordingly. We avoid this person and, thus, reinforce the distance and never really get to know the person. And talk about quick. I heard an image consultant recently note that the Millennial generation form first impressions in a second, that Generation X gives folks 30 seconds and Baby Boomers an entire minute.

So, depending upon who you are working with as mediator, your time in which to make a first impression goes from micro quick to a long full minute. You get to "create" your first impression in many ways including how you dress, your facial expression and other body language, and by your tone of voice. If you are already seated in a conference room - do you get up and shake hands? I encourage you to use this time well and remember that the impression you form about another could just be about a chair!

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