A second first chance
The impressions we make on other people are very important, both in our private life and at work. And it is often said that "you don't get a second chance to make a first impression".
In fact, I'm sure I've passed on these words of wisdom myself in various articles and presentations over the years. But the more I think about this piece of advice, the more I realize that it is "TTT" ("True-Trite-Tenuous").
It is clearly true, as a matter of logic, that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression (unless, of course, you never took the first chance, in which case the second chance becomes your first chance, if you see what I mean).
It is also, let's be honest, pretty trite, which my Oxford Dictionary of English defines as "lacking originality or freshness; dull on account of overuse". And I find the advice tenuous because it seems so final, suggesting that if things go wrong during the first encounter, you have blown the possibility of establishing a good relationship.
In fact, this is not just tenuous, it is nonsense. We all know people whom we didn't particularly take to when we first met them, but who grew on us over time. (Of course, there are also plenty of situations in which we don't modify our first impression.)
But clearly it is not an optimal strategy to judge people purely by our first impressions. There are many reasons why the first impression that someone makes might be less positive than it could be. The person could, for example, be stressed, nervous or simply shy. Reserving judgement and, if appropriate, changing our original opinion as we get new information, is a smarter strategy.
We also need to take advantage of any second chances that we are given by others. This is the subject of a fascinating article — "Managing Yourself: A Second Chance to Make the Right Impression" — by social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson in the January/Febuary edition of Harvard Business Review.
As the author says, "perceiving people accurately is hard" and "words and behaviors are always subject to interpretation". But in "phase two" — a second encounter, if there is one — we have the chance both to assess people more accurately and also to correct any false impressions we ourselves may have given in the first encounter.
So, yes, it is indeed true that we don't get a second chance to make a first impression. But we often get a first chance to make a second impression. And that might well be the crucial chance.
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