First impressions are a very important part of any society. We all judge others on first impressions and many times the conclusion or ruling of these judgments are totally out of our control. However, this should not dissuade us from understanding how and what are being judged, as well as the process that goes on in the human mind. With help from Virginia Stair, I have developed the 8 point system of a first impression between 2 people. This system details exactly what goes on during a first encounter between 2 people. First, let’s take a brief look at the 6 elements of communication in which a human being, baring any disabilities, brings into an encounter. Body values, expectations, sense organs, ability to speak and brain function. These are all highly developed systems that have been shaped and molded from prior experiences. Since just about all communication is learned, it can be changed; hence, taking a closer look at ourselves and how these elements have been shaped and conditioned will help us develop into the individuals that we want to become.
The 8 Point System
The 8 point system of a first impression is very simply, the detailed process that occurs almost instantaneously when having a face to face encounter with another for the first time.
1. The first thing that occurs is a mental picture is taken of the person we encounter and it is developed immediately.
2. The next thing is the internal dialog critique along with critique questions. “Wow, his nose is big; she has nice eyes; her clothes look wrinkled; does she own an iron; doesn’t he know that mullets went out in the 80’s?”
3. Next, comes the question, “Who does this person remind me of?” This one is mostly subconscious and usually won’t become conscious unless the person distinctly reminds us of someone. We ask ourselves this several times throughout the interaction. At first, it is based solely on appearance. It could be a relative, a friend or someone on TV. It can also be the gestures the person makes, the way they talk, the words they use etc. Many times we may mistake this person for the one they remind us of and start to talk to them as if they were the other person. As you should know, one person’s perception of the same situation is very different than the others, just as no two people have the same finger prints.
4. This next step also happens several times throughout the course of the interaction, comparing the person to ourselves. This can also be referred to as, sizing them up’. Again, this step is done at first glance and then is molded and shaped as other factors come into play such as, the person’s manner of speech or articulation, the way they dress, etc. This will also determine how we treat the other person. There can only be one of three outcomes from this first impression: We can see the person as below us (whether in status, common sense, intelligence, appearance, maturity level, etc.), above us or in a dominant role, or as our equal and someone we can relate to and maybe even become friends with.
5. Smells and odors come in at number five. This is a very key component in many interactions, especially ones with romantic implications or intimate, close quarter situations. Many studies show that smells play a large role in attraction between two people as well as shape our perception of people. This is our primitive nature at its best and is the reason for perfumes and colognes. The perfumes and colognes can even spark a remembrance of an old girlfriend, boyfriend or loved one and leave a long lasting impression. Many times, the way a person’s breath smells determines the course of the conversation and can leave a long lasting and devastating negative effect, even if everything else is socially acceptable. Even if it’s a one time thing that occurs for that person, it will never be forgotten by the recipient. As shallow as it may sound, we all know it to be true, because as sophisticated as we want to think ourselves, we are still mammals and sensitive to many things. The one big problem in this area is that no one will ever inform you that you have bad breath, even close friends are weary and may hint at it, but never tell you directly, so it is vital not to overlook this aspect.
6. Coming in at number six is the sound or the way a person speaks. Sound affects us in so many ways and can immediately spark an emotional reaction without even thinking consciously about it. A sound of a loud train nearby or someone breaking the silence with a loud scream can evoke certain emotions and make the stomach jump. When I talk about sound in this respect, I am talking about voice intonation or tone, pitch, loud, soft etc. I am also referring to the vocabulary, articulation, dialect, etc. All of these things will aid us in forming an opinion of the individual, just or unjust as it may seem. The problem here is that most people do not know the way that they sound, only the way they intend to sound or their perception of what they sound like. I remember the first time I heard myself on a tape recorder. I did not recognize the voice that I heard, even though it was me and I just said the words a minute or 2 before hand. The same is true for most people. Grab a tape recorder and say a few sentences. Then play the tape back. The most common response that I’ve heard people say is, “That doesn’t even sound like me.” If you play that same tape to a friend or family member they will tell you it sounds exactly like you. It seems that the most naturally skilled at this are the individuals whose primary system is auditory naturally as well as the great imitators of the world. Some people have such an uncanny ability to imitate others voices, that their perception is well above the rest of us. So as we start to become more aware and understand just how important it is to take responsibility for how we communicate and how our communication is being perceived, we will start to see changes in how we are being treated and perceived.
7. What does the other person think about me? Some people try to say that they are going to be themselves and that they don’t care what people think about them. They say that if people don’t like it then too bad for them. Well, don’t let these people fool you. We live in a world of conform or be cast out and these people are in denial. They know they have a lot of work to do on themselves, but continue to put it off, because it is not easy to change. If you act a certain way that annoys everyone else, you will be a very lonely person, because no one will want to be around you. People also say this as a way to communicate how much of an individual that they are or even that they do care probably more then they will admit about what people think. They use this statement as a defense mechanism as to respond to their inner voice. Their inner voice is haunting them about it. Maybe they have had others communicate this to them and they are telling the voices to leave them alone about it for now. It is only human nature to wonder how we are being perceived.
8. Finally, if you get to an intimate state with someone, the way a person feels or the way a person touches you will also spark a specific emotion. This can happen on a first encounter as well with a hug or shoulder rub. When two people bond and possibly become attracted to each other, touching of the leg or arm is quite common and mostly unconscious to the toucher. This can even occur between straight males who bond. A tap on the arm can signify male bonding depending on the context of the relationship and how subtle it is. In our society, touching is frowned upon, especially for first encounters, but it does occur subtly. It can simply mean a sign of admiration or understanding.