5 psychological strategies to reverse a bad first impression
Within seconds of meeting you, people decide whether you're smart, trustworthy, and successful.
So if you're heading into a job interview or a first date, you'd better hope you don't have snot in your nose or a pizza stain on your shirt.
Let's face it though: Snot and pizza are facts of life, and bad first impressions are bound to be made.
Fortunately, using a little bit of psychological savvy, it's often possible to reverse those impressions. Here, we rounded up five tricks to overcome people's initial evaluations of you.
But hey — bring a napkin, just in case.
1. Allow them to reinterpret your behavior more positively
Up until recently, scientists believed that it was possible to reverse explicit evaluations — i.e. our tendency to agree with the statement, "I don't like that person" — but it was a lot harder to reverse implicit evaluations — i.e. the deep-seated likes and dislikes that we aren't necessarily aware of.
Then, in 2015, a pair of researchers at Cornell University found that it was possible to completely change implicit evaluations by giving someone information that put the person's actions in a new context.
In a series of experiments, the researchers had participants read about a man who broke into a house and took precious objects. Unsurprisingly, participants expressed their dislike for him. Even when the researchers gave participants additional information, like the fact that the man had once saved a baby from an oncoming train, participants still didn't like him.
It was only when participants learned that the man had broken into the house to save two kids from a fire that they revised their initial impression of him. Most importantly, when researchers tested participants' implicit evaluations by seeing how they reacted to quick flashes of the man's face, they found that participants saw him positively.
These findings suggest that it helps to show someone that your actions were well-intentioned. For example, maybe you shoved past them in the hallway because you'd just received an urgent phone call from your kid's school. There's a good chance they'll rewrite their initial feelings, even those that exist on a subconscious level.
2. Remind them of the importance of fairness
Writing in The Harvard Business Review, social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson suggests that one way to reverse a bad first impression is to "activate the desire to be fair."
She cites a study that found when people generally aspire to fairness, and have recently been asked to think about fairness, they're likely to inhibit certain biases — for example, gender stereotypes.
You can take advantage of this phenomenon by doing one of two things that Halvorson recommends. One, you can comment on how the ability to accurately judge others must be a key skill for someone in their line of work. Or two, you can share your own experiences with fairness, for example a time when you misjudged someone.
3. Make yourself indispensable
You want to prompt someone to pay more careful attention to your behavior instead of relying on first impressions. To do this, Halvorson says you should create a situation where the person relies on you to help them achieve their goals.
Halvorson suggests identifying opportunities for collaboration. Maybe you've embarrassed yourself in front of your boss, so you volunteer for an assignment that would allow you to work closely with them.
"It's natural to shy away from people who don't think highly of you," Halvorson writes, "but you need to fight that instinct and instead stick to them like glue if you hope to correct their misperceptions."
4. Get to know them better
Marketing strategist and professional speaker Dorie Clark interviewed psychologist Ben Michaelis, and he told her that it's important to continually display your positive attributes.
"Force yourself out of your comfort zone and find ways to get to know them better," Clark writes in The Harvard Business Review.
She personally had an experience with an employee she thought was lazy. The employee suggested that they get to know each other better by going to a rock climbing gym, as he was an experienced rock climber. "Seeing his competence and mastery showed me a different side of what he was capable of," she writes, and prompted her to rewrite her initial impressions of him.
5. Have a trusted source present positive information about you
Recent research suggests that we're much more likely to change our attitudes if we get new information from a trustworthy source than an untrustworthy source.
Researchers found that participants who got information about a new laundry detergent from a Yale-educated chemist were more likely to prefer that laundry detergent than people who got the same information from a 14-year-old.
Even when researchers tested participants' implicit preferences for the detergent (see No. 1), they found that preferences were stronger among those who'd heard from the chemist.
If you're looking to make someone see you more favorably, consider having a mutual friend —one whom they really trust and respect —tell them how great you are. It might just change their mind about you.
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