First impressions can be critical when you’re trying to work with another party in negotiations or mediations (and trying to develop new clients as well). That first impression can be a lasting impression, so if you appear to be over bearing or untrustworthy, that will be more than an impression in the mind of the other person. It will be their version of reality.

The Science of First Impressions is a Lifehacker article by Jory MacKay and he brings up many good points,

  • We are hard wired to make quick, not necessarily rational, decisions. When our ancestors lived on the plains of Africa, it was eat or be eaten. Being able to quickly size up situations and other people could be the difference between life and death. This “rapid cognition” is the ability to delve into the situation and decide what is most important very quickly.
  • Psychologists call the ability to rapidly make a decision from large amounts of information ‘thin-slicing.’ Studies show what we perceive in a few moments could take months or years of evaluation by the rational side of our brains, so our less than rational side takes short cuts to figure out what’s going on.
  • One tool that helps, or hurts, us in this process is heuristics or the ‘mental shortcuts’ that help us make decisions. One type of shortcut is the ‘What You See Is All There Is’ approach in  which the mind makes decisions by dealing only in ‘known knowns’ and ignores facts that could make the decision more complicated. Problems arise when we meet someone new and we have limited knowledge about them. We try to affirm our currently held beliefs about the world and its people and ignore the complexities. Our view of people is the embodiment of the few known facts about them
  • Our appearance can immediately determine the way people think of us due to unconscious biases. A recent study showed that people connect specific facial traits with particular personality types. For example, if your face appears to be more feminine or happy you have a better chance as being seen as more trustworthy.

Given all these hidden biases, what can you do to make a good impression?

  • If you communicate in an open, expressive, animated way you will probably be better liked than difficult-to-read people. We are more at ease with people who we think are easy to read. If we feel shut out emotionally we will probably attribute it to egotism, not insecurity or shyness.
  • Find something in common with another because we’re more likely to like people with whom we have something in common. Engage in small talk. Talk about hobbies, books or movies the person enjoys. This can also help build bridges if there was a bad first impression.
  • Be a good, active listener. Ask follow up questions. Showing you care about what the person says creates a lasting positive impression because it makes the other person feel important.

Though a bad first impression can be overcome, it’s going to take time and energy that may be in short supply. When it’s possible, do your best to make a good first impression. The time and effort you invest in the process may result in an excellent return like a difficult settlement reached in less time and with less effort.

Steve Mehta is a professional full-time mediator who specializes in mediating complex and emotional cases. A leading Los Angeles mediator, Mr. Mehta has been repeatedly selected as a Super Lawyer in mediation and is highly regarded by both sides to mediation. To schedule mediations, please visit SteveMehta.com