First Impressions Aren't Everything
Alexi Strong Gonzalez
Everyone leaves a first impression. At work, at a bar, online—the first time you meet or interact with someone, you walk away slowly forming an opinion of them (and they form one of you). Unfortunately, those first impressions and early opinions can often be more like rushes to judgment. And when that happens, those first impressions are sometimes way off.
I can easily name half a dozen former and current colleagues about whom I first thought: They’re amazing! I love them! (I can think of just as many who made me think, What an idiot.)
These weren’t always first impressions (snap judgments) based on the initial handshake and “Nice to meet ya,” but maybe after an introductory meeting, or the first time I was asked to train them on something or even the first time I had to review some of their work. As I count back through each of those people, I realize that in almost every instance, my first impression was nowhere near the impression I have of those same people today.
Many of the people who seemed wonderful turned out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing, and those “idiots” actually ended up being sharp, reliable coworkers. It’s not always easy to tell what kind of person each new coworker will turn out to be, but there are some good tell-tale signs to notice before you let that first impression dictate the rest of your relationship.
First up: those too-good-to-be-true elements. (If they seem too good to be true, they very well might be.)
Keep this in mind: Good bosses/employees/coworkers don’t feel the need to tell you how good they are. They won’t drone on and on about their progressive and accommodating managerial style, or how organized and efficient they are, or how collaborative they can be when working with others. They’ll show you.
A bad boss, or someone who has trouble managing people or communicating, may feel the need to overcompensate for their shortcomings by repeatedly listing qualities they know sound good. It’s way easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk.
If you let go of that first impression, you may start to notice the façade crumbling. That boss or coworker who bragged up front about how their door is always open may snap at you every time you ask a simple question (even though they’ll insist to everyone that their open-door policy is sincere). The employee who lauded their great communication skills may end up constantly a week behind on emails. Hope for the best in people, but you can’t always take them at their word. Don’t let it be enough for someone to tell you, “I’m a great boss.” Make sure they show you, too.
Next: diamonds in the rough. The under-whelmers. The worth-a-second-look kind of folks. These can be the best kinds. Some people really struggle with their first impressions. Maybe you come away after meeting them thinking, Eh, they’re not so great, or, I didn’t get a good vibe, or even: I have absolutely no opinion of that person. What did they look like? What was their name again?
You may be right in your first impression—but you have to give these people a fair chance to show you how great they can be.
Did you not like them because they seemed aloof, kind of out of it? Maybe they were overwhelmed on their first few days, taking everything in and warming up to a new environment. Did you think they were a low performer because they asked questions nonstop or had no idea how to use a program you walked them through? Maybe they’re just extra thorough and ask all their questions up front so they can work independently as soon as they get the hang of things.
Sometimes our perceptions are spot-on. You may get a great first impression from someone, click right away and enjoy a long and great working relationship with them. Or, you may meet someone who seems like a dud—turns out to be exactly that. Even the most warm and welcoming workplaces can feel like a shark tank, especially for new people nervous about their first impression. It can bring out different sides of people that may not give you the best initial feeling—but also may be misleading. Remember that everyone deserves a closer look. And if you’re working hard to earn the respect and appreciation of your coworkers, make sure they’re working that hard, too.
Alexi is a journalism grad from the University of Florida who recently traded years in non-profit communications for a corporate marketing management gig she totally loves. She and her husband are raising the world’s most adorable baby boy while updating their beach house and catching movies when they can leave the kid at Grandma’s. You’ll find her bike-riding and watching football games at kid-friendly breweries on weekends. For alarmingly liberal political opinions and TMI motherhood musings, follow her on Twitter at @alexigonzo.