Blog | Feb 17, 2012 | 1 Comment

[3 things you don't know about me]

What three things would I not know about you just from looking at you? We’re always told that first impressions count, but it’s a lot better to keep an open mind.

Last month, I wrote about guidelines for respectful communication, based on the ideas of Eric H. F. Law of the Kaleidoscope Institute, which is dedicated to fostering “competent leadership in a diverse, changing world.” In the workshop I attended that was led by Eric, he asked us to write down three important things about ourselves that no one would be able to guess just by looking at us.

Here are my three things. 

Here are three random items that I thought of today.

  1. I was raised in Oakland, California and am a graduate of the Oakland public schools.
  2. I have had open heart surgery.
  3. I am a grandmother.

If I told you those three things when you first met me in person, what kind of impression would you form about me? What if you saw these things in writing but never saw me or a photo of me?

First impressions are usually based on your own background and experiences, not true observations of the other person. 

Eric explained that we have a strong cultural tendency to think about other people from our own frame of reference. We “universalize our own experience” and use that lens to judge others. And we can frequently be wrong–not just after the first meeting, but even as we get to know someone. It takes a conscious effort to truly discover someone without judging, categorizing, and–ultimately–diminishing them.

Instead, we need to cultivate a “culture of curiosity and acceptance.”

Recently, Liz Strauss, the excellent, inpsiring founder of Successful Blog, wrote about getting a second chance at first impressions. This note came in an email newsletter, and I can’t find an online link, so I’ll just reproduce it here:

They say we don’t get a second chance at a first impression. I don’t know if I agree with that. I’ve sure had some wonderful experiences that came from a realization that I blew it when I first met someone.

Over the years, I’ve devised many forms of the bad first impression. I’ve been overwhelmingly imposing because I couldn’t stop talking. I’ve been under-whelmingly uninteresting because I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I’ve been distracted, bored, aggressive, disinterested, and even argumentative, like a debater.

When I look back on all of my bad “first impression” behaviors, I can say with surety that they were all the same thing. I wasn’t seeing the person I was meeting. My head was all about my own thoughts and feelings.

Whether I was feeling impressed, depressed, irritated, shy, tired, or any of a million other feelings. I was letting the world revolve around me.

Whenever the world revolves around me, the universe flies out of balance.

And the only way to get to that wonderful experience is to take my mind off myself. Then I see …

People experience how you make them feel. They might remember what you say, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. So the best way to a wonderful new experience is to make the person feel how much you value who they are, what they say, how they think.

It’s not hard to fix a first impression. Just care more about what you think about them than what they thought about you.

One of the reasons this topic seems important is that we are “meeting” more people than ever online. We are forming impressions of them based on photos and little tidbits of information on social networks. Do you think this is helping or hurting our ability to understand individuals? Or do we even need to, if we are just looking to be entertained or informed by them?

What are your three things? Share them–and any other thoughts you might have–in the comments. I’d love to know more about you. 

 Image credit: From an interesting article about first impressions at Futurity. org.

 

Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.

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