The brilliance of first impressions

Q. I do an enormous amount of hiring for my organization. After a decade of interviewing, I notice subtle signs right away that tell me how good a potential employee will be. The problem is I feel guilty that I'm not giving people a chance if I jump to conclusions. How do I balance out my first impression with giving people a fair chance?

A. You will be far better off giving yourself a fair chance by believing people when they show you who they are at first glance. Research indicates initial impressions about others are right far more often than those impressions are wrong.

People as diverse as Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Blink," Gavin De Becker, security advisor and author of "The Gift of Fear," and Oprah Winfrey have all commented on how critical it is to trust your first impression. From avoiding physical danger to sidestepping life chaos, trusting your initial experience of others is a gift you give to yourself.

When we feel we are not being fair by trusting our first impressions, we'll live to regret that "fairness." A key emotion con men and psychopaths use on marks is pity. If you hire an employee who makes a bad first impression and invokes pity, you'll have double regrets.

As Gladwell wrote about in "Blink," our initial impression is a super power brilliant at distilling down data. Why would any of chose to give away all useful information just because it happens quickly and easily?

We are wired to root for the underdog, but that wiring can prevent us from seeing who is standing in front of us. There are people you'll interview that shine when you first encounter them and will even get better over time. There are people who make a poor first impression and will go downhill from there. Why wouldn't you hire the higher quality employee?

To use the super power of first impressions, ask yourself what you sense when you first see a new interviewee. Pay attention to how they stand, what their voice sounds like, and how you feel.

An impression is accurate in part because you don't have history with an individual. Nonverbal cues, like body movements and tone of voice, always provide about 75 percent of the truth in conversations. When you glance at a new person, you focus on this powerful 75 percent data because you're not distracted with any history.

If your sense is an interviewee is a baby, angry or lazy, try trusting yourself next time and avoid future problems. If you sense calm, responsibility and sincerity in another interviewee, hire him or her and reap future benefits.

You can use your role as hiring manager as a laboratory to try out the power of first impressions. Over time, you may find that you miss certain good or bad traits consistently in your first glance. You can then add into your interviewing formula whatever you tend to miss.

Our workplaces give us at least 8 hours a day to practice new ways of approaching old problems. People who are miserable at work tend to keep using strategies that don't work because they want to avoid an uncomfortable emotion.

Using your first glance as your new strategy, you may have to feel guilt. But the price of avoiding your guilt to prove you are "fair" may be your peace of mind, effectiveness and future career success. Is avoiding a moment of guilt worth years of negative consequences?

The last word(s)

Q. I notice people in my workplace are often wrong about their observations or memories of what happened. I try to correct them diplomatically but they get upset. Do you have any idea about to correct others without getting angry blowback?

A. Yes, share your perceptions or memories without pointing out the "wrongness" of others. People will react badly to feeling corrected but react well to useful information.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

(c) 2014 INTERPERSONAL EDGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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