You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression
Updated: Apr 18
It turns out that we DO judge a book by its cover. And that we’re pretty accurate in our split second assessments. And that our first impressions are pretty hard to change.
In Eric Barker’s book, Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong, he shares the studies that prove it.
Some highlights from the book:
First impressions have a huge impact. Snap judgments consistently predict elections. Merely asking people “Which candidate looks more competent?” can tell you who’s going to come out on top in political races 70 percent of the time.
We do judge a book by its cover. Immediately and instinctively. We can’t help it. And that cover is usually someone’s face. We make our minds up about someone’s assertiveness, beauty, competence, likability, and trustworthiness in less than a second. And more time doesn’t noticeably change our opinions, it just increases our confidence.
The kicker? Our first impressions are often surprisingly accurate. Just seeing someone smile for the first time was enough for viewers to make accurate predictions two-thirds of the time for nine out of ten fundamental personality traits, from extroversion to self-esteem to political preferences. You’re also good at instinctively determining someone’s competence after a brief encounter.
Our ability to intuit what someone’s like from thin slices of behavior is powerful in determining if someone is smart, wealthy, altruistic, or whether they’re a psychopath. Our instincts are good to the 70 percent accuracy level.
Fundamental cognitive biases are wired into our gray matter. Often these are shortcuts. And we have a bias against noticing our biases.
We’re prone to zillions of cognitive biases. But when it comes to first impressions, the main battle is with “confirmation bias.” Our standards drop for what is necessary to prove our theories, but they go up for the amount of evidence required to disprove them. And we all do this. Yes, even you. No one thinks they’re the problem, and that’s the problem.
Your sixth sense works quickly and is not prone to second-guessing. Once we get a story in our heads about who someone is, it’s very hard for us to update it. We’re all but locked-in to our prior judgments. And it can dramatically affect our relationships.
When presented with incontrovertible new information about someone, your very rational, evidence-based perspective can change, but your feelings about the person stay exactly the same.
How do we resist confirmation bias?
1. FEEL ACCOUNTABLE. When we set a high bar for accountability, our opinions don’t become inflexible until we’ve done a thorough review of the evidence.
2. DISTANCE BEFORE DECISION. Take a step back and imagine a situation from a more general perspective
3. CONSIDER THE OPPOSITE. “If I have an idea and have observations to support it, I go around and look at it in different ways and try and destroy it. And only if it survives do I begin to talk about it.”
Two takeaways from our little exploration of confirmation bias. First, make a good first impression. The other thing to remember: give people a second chance.
Two takeaways from your editor:
1. First impressions also impact what businesses we choose to deal with. That’s why branding is so important. Distinctive branding communicates stability, credibility, and professionalism, and helps generate name recognition, trust, and customer loyalty. It's more than your signature. It’s your reputation. Need an upgrade, a makeover, or a refreshed look and feel for your business? Kauai Design can help.
2. I read a lot and am a compulsive highlighter. When I read a book on my Kindle, the highlights are saved automatically. Then I often download them, clean them up and save them as a “Cliff Notes” version of the book. If you’d like to read highlights from the rest of this enlightening and entertaining book, I’m happy to share. Just ask.