Business Adept Blogs

Intuition - First Impressions

I’ve discussed previously the need to allow the subconscious brain time to assimilate and process information without interference from the conscious brain and our ego. This gives the impression that the subconscious is slow. Wrong! I need to correct that - it is very fast indeed. I’ve heard that the older part of the brain, which processes sensory input and activates, if necessary the fight or flight response, works at more than 50,000 times the speed of the neo-cortex – our conscious brain.

This speed comes into its own when we meet someone for the first time. Initially the subconscious brain is in charge and must decide instantly whether this person is safe to know or not, whether we need to react fast. The conscious brain, when it catches up, takes over and rationalises the situation.

I’ve heard it claimed that first impressions are formed in anything from 8 down to 4 seconds. I suspect it takes even less time than that. First impression stick, which is why our personal presentation is so important in life and business.

I’m relatively poor both at giving a good first impression (I fail to convey my competence) and at forming, or at least reacting wisely to, my first impression of the people I meet. Despite thinking of myself as intuitive, I’ve failed to pay enough attention. One of the worst cases was when I went for an interview for a transfer to another department. When I met my future boss, my internal alarm bell sounded but I ignored it. He seemed a really nice guy. The interview went well and I took the job. Big mistake! He turned out to be the worst manager I have ever worked for, before or since. How did my subconscious recognise the risk? And why did I ignore it?

Generally, my experiences have been much more positive – thankfully. One case was particularly gratifying – again a job interview but this time I was seeking to fill a vacancy in my unit. One candidate had been working as admin support for a technical unit. His appraisal was poor and his interview was uninspiring – he lacked confidence. Other candidates were ranked better. Nevertheless, my first impression overrode all that and I took him on. I never regretted it. He proved to be a competent and confident junior manager, who soon progressed to the next level. He had found his niche.

If you would like to share your own good or bad experience of first impressions, I’d be delighted to hear from you.